Category: Digital in Plan Making

Collaborative Working in West Northamptonshire

Opus and Joint Working in West Northamptonshire

Increasingly Local Authorities are being encouraged and incentivised to share services and resources to save money. The formation and publication of planning policy is a prime example of Councils working together to realise savings. In collaboration they can identify where to implement sustainable new developments and how to make best use of the natural and man-made resources available to them without having to restrict their scope of examination to individual administrative boundaries.

Web-based technologies combined with hosted web-enabled software are ideally suited to supporting collaborative initiatives. They provide virtual office space and a consistent level of access to data and tools for working with that data no matter by whom and from where they are accessed. Hosted software  - particularly those provided under a Software as a Service (SaaS licence – is easy to scale up to allow extended use by multiple stakeholders, whether working independently or collaboratively. Councils can collaborate and consult on Local Plans and their related policies, documents and publications without having to change internal IT arrangements or radically alter internal protocols and work-flows; they simply extend the user base of the hosted software and allocate the necessary roles and permissions to each partner in the project or process being undertaken. The hosted software environment also provides the platform from which to easily publish and disseminate the deliverables and outcomes of collective decisions and actions as well as providing tools and communication channels for residents and stakeholders to engage with their Council and its partners.  [more]

The West Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit is one such example of this developing trend of joint working within the public sector and public domain. The JPU brings together Daventry District Council, Northampton Borough Council, South Northamptonshire District Council and Northamptonshire County Council into one strategic body and comprises of officers engaged in the task of preparing the documents for the Joint Local Development Scheme (LDS), and thereafter submitting them to the Joint Strategic Planning Committee for their consideration and approval.

In 2013 the JPU chose our Opus system to support their online mapping requirements; Opus has been taken by the Unit under a 3 year SaaS licence. Although the JPU already uses a GIS it was felt that a dedicated and hosted web-based system for mapping would best serve their requirements as it could be easily integrated with documents and web-pages generated from their online consultation system. Opus’s simple but powerful CMS also allows access to the map data by non-technical as well as technical personnel because the software is accessed through a normal web browser. A hosted platform also means that the Opus system is easier to roll out to other users as the role of the JPU develops in tandem with the joint planning process it is spearheading.

The first interactive map published from Opus is the Central Area Action Plan (CAAP) for Northampton Town centre. The map has been designed and developed by the JPU’s own officers using Opus’s cartographic styling and layer management tools. The software supports multiple overlays and transparencies so all layers and base mapping, no matter how detailed or complex their arrangement on the map, are visible at all times. This gives the officers the freedom to determine the best styling and layering combinations for each map they publish thereby ensuring the information on the map is clear and unambiguous for the public to interpret. This is particularly important if the map is made up of data derived from a number of different sources and GIS. Ordnance Survey base mapping is provided via a WMS feed from Northamptonshire County Council’s own servers and address searching is from the JPU’s own gazetteer. The interactive map has 2-way links to the CAAP document generated from the JPU’s online document system thus allowing the public to more easily understand both the spatial and the textual context for each and every policy outlined in the Plan. This provides a high level of accessibility and transparency to the JPU’s programme of work for all stakeholders tasked with delivering to the requirements of the JPU’s mandate. 

The interactive CAAP map can be accessed directly from the JPU website’s Home page if you click here or you can go straight to the map by clicking on the images.