We saw a tweet this morning that contained some pretty alarming information. If it’s true, it could have significant ramifications for local democratic decision-making.

The tweet claims a rise in the number of local authorities that are ‘beginning to stop putting representations on planning applications online, claiming GDPR reasons and a lack of resource to redact’.

Including representations on planning applications is an essential part of the democratic process. It keeps planning processes open and accountable: if residents are able to see others’ comments on an application, an organisation has a lot more to answer for it if approves, for example, an application that has been visibly and publicly opposed – quite apart from the fact that publishing representations demonstrates transparency.

As one Twitter user said: “Knowing what my fellow citizens are saying is a fundamental part of effective participation in the system.”

Trust in the planning system is already at an all-time low, as was widely discussed at Centre For London’s event in July. As few as 7% of citizens trust their local authority to act with integrity when it comes to planning. With local authorities not publishing representations, this statistic is set to drop even further. 

Luckily, there’s a simple fix to the problem: technology. Reasons like this are reminders why employing good technology is so vital: it’s cost-effective, it saves time, it saves resource. Twitter commenters shared horror stories of local authority administrative nightmares:

An effective tech solution would solve all sorts of problems here. Efficient digital redaction! Digital submissions! Integrated user consent! It’s why we’ve built Citizen Space to allow organisations to publish representations online in a way that’s completely, 100% GDPR compliant. No hand-written stickers, no battling with scanners. Our work involves local plans, not individual planning applications, and we recognise that they are discrete processes, but the principle of openness and honesty remains. Here’s a good example of the response publishing feature.

Local authorities need access to technology that improves both their internal administrative processes and improves the user experience for their citizens. It’s precisely problems like this that we set out to solve. Rather than stopping publishing representations, local authorities should be looking into procuring appropriate technology and getting to grips with the bearing GDPR has on their work.

GDPR was brought in to protect peoples’ identities and their freedom to speak, act and live in both physical and online realms without fear of their personal information falling into the wrong hands. It categorically was not brought in to stymie our rights to a public voice. 

If you’d like to learn more about Citizen Space, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

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