Privately owned, yet publicly visible, buildings that are the labours of love for the owners but turn out to be the source of headaches for the neighbourhood. Some planned public buildings or buildings in historically noteworthy locations may manage to receive the attention of media. Just the same depending on where you live, neighbours may be required or expected to notify those living nearby. Still we are faced with those private creations whose construction we notice too late and whose particular form or function it may have been good to discuss with local residents beforehand.
In comes PlanningAlerts, a website created by the Open Australia Foundation, which gathers together all planning permission applications and provides an email notification service for local residents. Most of the information is gathered automatically from the websites of local authorities, ‘scraped’ as they call it, while local authorities themselves are encouraged to share their data in an accessible format. Once a new planning application is submitted nearby, you get to know about it straight away.
The website also offers the option to browse its database in your own time. Below is one example of the kind of information it offers. For each council it is possible to monitor the rate of planning applications as well as browse the most recent applications.
Just the same, one can search for planning applications nearby using a postcode or the current location. Those who are conscious of what kind of architectural direction their city is taking would probably appreciate the ability to browse through any new plans for areas of their interest.
The initiative is intended to give the opportunity to community members to raise concerns about planned construction works. As mentioned by an official at the Mosman Council (AU), officials are not always able to reach their constituents even when they would like to:
Councils spend a lot of time putting ads in the paper, signs on sites and writing to people but it is not always easy to identify the community of interest for a particular development proposal or approval. I see Planning Alerts as a supplement to the statutory notification we undertake and provides us with greater reach as a result. (John Carmichael, planningalerts.org)
If the resident wishes to raise an objection to a specific building it is possible to leave comments directly below each planning application. The comments section aspires to act as the focal point for online discussions surrounding the same construction plans. The developers have also integrated Twitter with tweets mentioning the relevant PlanningAlerts link being automatically displayed next to the application. Unfortunately a quick browse through the latest applications does not find any integrated tweets – to a large degree it could be due to the fact that most planning applications are routine and do not cause concern for locals.
What happens to the comments depends on the council and how willing it has been to collaborate with the site. Commenters under applications for the City of Brisbane are redirected to an official online submission form, while any comments for Melbourne City Council planning applications are sent directly to the council. For other councils, where it’s likely that no partnership has been established, the comments remain online under the planning applications.
To somewhat discourage angry neighbours without justifiable grounds for objections, the site requires to submit your address any time you comment, also this way any discussion emanating from the website is more likely to be taken seriously by the council. Just the same, commenters need to disclose any donations to councillors in the relevant jurisdiction, which is something that is required by Australian law but a good practice to borrow for anywhere else as well.
The website is inspired by planningalerts.com, a UK-based project that is currently closed down and in the process of being integrated into a new website – openlylocal.com. What is great about their story of collaboration is that their open source codebase has inspired new initiatives, such as the local one in Hampshire, UK. For a group of enthusiasts willing to create such a service in their home town (perhaps the conscious architects vary of what is being built in their city?) a big part of the initial work is already done.
The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.
Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.
NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.