Customer story: Leicester City Council, UK

Spatial Planning Process
'screenshot of 'Leicester City Council, UK
'screenshot of 'Leicester City Council, UK

A different sort of Local Plan

Local Plan consultations have a bad reputation. Too long, too confusing, full of jargon, inaccessible…the list goes on. Certainly there are plenty of Local Plan consultations that are like this. The sheer amount of information involved in a lot of cases is enough to put anyone off reading through it all.

So when Leicester’s new Local Plan came up, they decided to shake it up a bit.

They’ve been using Citizen Space since 2012, so they’re familiar with all the functions and benefits it provides. However, there was one particular feature which they used for this consultation, which was skip logic.

Skip logic, or survey routing, directs users down a particular path depending on the answers they select. For example, if you’re surveying people about their opinions on apples, and have a set of questions about respondents’ favourite apples, you might want to filter out the people that answered ‘no’ to the question ‘Do you like apples?’. Survey routing enables you to direct just those people who do like apples to those further relevant questions, and the people who don’t like apples can continue without clicking through a load of questions that don’t apply.

Routing wizardry

Leicester did this, but on an impressively massive scale. The consultation started with a page that functioned as a ‘main menu’, with a dropdown list showing the different sections as outlined in the Local Plan. The option to return to the main menu was embedded on each page.

From the menu, respondents could visit and respond to as many or as few sections as they liked, There was also a section for those that wanted to simply leave a general comment and then exit.

One of these sections listed all the supporting evidence and documentation. Evidence fell under a range of categories; (e.g. climate change; housing) these categories were listed in a dropdown. Selecting a category took the respondent to a page with links to all supporting documentation for that category. There was still a lot of material - there’s no getting around that due to the sheer amount of interconnected factors involved in local plans - but the key was that, by having a defined repository and clear categories for these documents, the huge volumes of information were much, much easier for respondents to navigate. It was clear at every stage that reading and responding to this documentation was optional.

In one section Leicester embedded an interactive map into the body of the page, showing proposed development sites that had been submitted. Using visual elements like this helps to contextualise planning proposals for respondents.

A better user experience

By using routing in this way, putting the respondent in charge of how they navigated the consultation, Leicester vastly simplified a process that by nature is extremely dense and complex. Organising and indexing the supporting evidence and keeping it separate from the actual draft Plan kept the user experience much more pleasant and simple than being forced to read through one or more 80+ page PDFs before being able to respond to a single question. It demonstrates that good planning consultation is possible, and sets a precedent at a time when the importance of engaging well online is being emphasised at a national level.

One of our key considerations was to make sure the consultation was accessible and easy to engage with, both for members of the public who may want to only comment on a single site, as well as developers and others who wished to provide a more granular response. By using Citizen Space’s routing feature we were able to ensure that respondents could navigate the consultation in a way that suited them.

Paul Clark, Leicester City Council

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