How the Planning Service deals with your information

Planning applications are governed by legislation and must adhere to a series of regulations and procedures. As part of the planning process, we receive a range of documents from applicants and from contributors offering their views on applications. These contributions can be from official bodies that we have consulted, or from members of the public.

How we treat these documents, and the information contained in them, is also governed by legislation and there are two areas that cover this. Firstly, there is the Data Protection Act (DPA), which aims to protect individuals from having their personal details made public. Secondly, there is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows the public to have clear information about how information is dealt with and to get access to information that they need.

An important part of the FOIA is the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). These regulations are aimed at ensuring that decisions about the environment are made fairly and publicly, with information about these decisions freely available. They define ‘environment’ in very broad terms, which means that information relating to planning applications is usually governed by them - whether that application is a large industrial development or a household conservatory.

The need to see information given to us as part of a planning application is controlled by balancing the requirements of planning legislation with FOIA and EIR regulations, and the DPA. This document aims to explain that balancing act, and what your rights are in relation to this information.

What information do we make public?

Planning law says that we must have a register of applications that have been made to us, which is a list of those cases we are currently considering. We must make information available about who has made the application, what the application is, and what people think about it.

When an application has been decided we still need to keep it on the register, but most of the information associated with it is no longer considered to be public because the decision has been made. As a result we follow the advice of the Information Commissioner’s Office and only show information that people would need to know. Usually this would be the application plans, supporting information, any comments made by people we have consulted as part of the planning process, and the decision letter. Comments by members of the public are hidden, but are still available to the Planning Service.

How do we treat documents?

We aim to have all the documents we receive in electronic format as quickly as possible.

The way in which we deal with documents depends on how we receive them. People can submit applications (and comments on those applications) electronically over the internet. These documents are stored in our software systems with private information (for example telephone numbers, signatures and email addresses) already removed.

If we get paper copies of documents, these are scanned so that we can display them on our planning website and we use software that allows us to blank out private information. We do not keep paper copies once an application has been decided, except for Major applications or older applications that have yet to be converted to electronic format.

Older planning applications where all documents were originally paper based have been processed by a private contractor and pre-date modern legislation on data privacy. We aim to make these older documents DPA compliant as much as possible.

For public comments on an application, we put the sender’s address as the document description – even if it appears in the letter itself. We do this because many contributors want to know that their comment has been received and to be able to find it easily and also because contributor details are part of the public record for an application.

Once an application is decided, documents are hidden by our software depending on what type of document they are. If an appeal is lodged then hidden documents will be made available again. If a planning application is directly related to a previous application, for example it is a re-submission of an expired permission or relates to a condition imposed on a previously granted permission, relevant documents from the original application will be copied over to the new one.

I have made a comment on an application but I want my details hidden

If you comment on a planning application, then your name and address will be publicly available as required by planning legislation. If you submit a comment through our online planning system (Public Access) then this availability is immediate. This is made clear on our online planning system in the section where you submit comments, and you should consider those comments carefully.

You do have the right to request that these details are hidden, and this should be done by contacting the planning case officer.

You don’t have to give us your address details. Comments made with no contact details at all do not have to be considered by the Planning Officer, but as a rule we will consider comments as long as they are relevant in terms of planning legislation. We will not be able to send you information about an application’s progress if you don’t give us any contact details.

I want my comment removed completely

If you change your mind about the comment you have sent us and want it removing completely, you should contact the planning case officer using the same email address you used to submit your comment. If your comment was in writing, you should send us a written request. This is to stop people asking us to remove your comments without your permission.

What information do you keep about me?

If you have submitted a planning application, or a comment on an application, we will have saved your name and any contact details you have given us in our ‘back office’ software. We do this so that we can notify you of the outcome of the application, of any public meetings about the application, or if an appeal is lodged against the outcome of an application. Your name and address will also be on any electronic copies of your comments that we keep in our document management system.

How long do you keep my information?

The registers containing Planning and Building Control information do not have an expiry date, and because of this we will always have any details you have supplied to us stored electronically. Unless you are the applicant, these details will only be available to people inside the Council once an application is decided. An applicant’s name and address is part of the public register for an application.

What is my information used for and who else can see it?

As far as the Planning Service is concerned, your personal details help us to keep you informed about a planning application. We may also ask other departments and official bodies for their opinions and, as they have access to the same software that we use, they will also have access to your information. These departments are subject to the same rules about data privacy is we are, and have the same obligation to keep personal information private.

If an applicant appeals against a decision, the Appeal Inspector may ask for copies of all the documents we hold (including public comments) to make sure we have dealt with an application fairly.

There are other parts of the Council (and also national government) that are interested in planning information because it helps them decide where resources are to be used, eg for school places and refuse collection, or because it tells them about trends in application types and locations. We send these departments statistical summaries of planning information, but not personal details.

My comment has been used elsewhere – what can I do about it!

As your comment is publicly available it is possible for other people to use them for other purposes. For example, there have been occasions where local newspapers have used public comments in articles about controversial planning applications. The Council cannot be held responsible for the uses other agencies make of your comment. If you believe your comment has been used unfairly by anyone outside the Council, you would need to discuss it with them.

Can I submit photographs with my comment?

Photographs can be very useful in illustrating a point to a planning officer, but there is a need to protect the privacy of an applicant or any other individuals that may be in the photographs. We will display them as long as they are relevant to the point being made, but we may decide to hide them from public view if we feel there are potential privacy concerns. Even if photographs are hidden by us, they will still be available to the planning officer.

If you intend to take photographs to use in your planning comment, you should consider people’s privacy and be respectful of their property.

Someone has made an unfair comment on my application – what should I do?

Comments on planning applications should be restricted to matters relating to planning law and opinions relating to the planning proposals. Personal comments about applicants are not acceptable, as are comments that are offensive, malicious or make unfounded allegations. We aim to remove any comments that are not acceptable as soon as they are identified, but if you see any that you consider unacceptable please contact the planning case officer to discuss this matter further.

We would not normally notify anyone who has had their comment removed. If you think your comment has been removed unfairly, please contact us at the email address above.

Bradford Council cannot take responsibility for comments made by members of the public, and may report abuses of the online planning system to the Police.

I can’t see documents that used to be there!

There are a few possible reasons for this.

Firstly, we may have changed the name of the document you are looking for in order to make it more obvious what the document contains, or because we have had to split the document into smaller parts to make it easier to download.

Secondly, we may have removed a document that belongs to another application and was placed there in error, or has had a technical problem.

Finally, there is compliance with the DPA. When a planning application is decided we follow the advice of the Information Commissioner’s Office and remove some categories of documents from our website. We do this to ensure that we not breach the DPA, and this is the most likely reason that you can’t find a particular document.

We do not delete electronic documents submitted by the applicant or contributors unless asked to, as the electronic copy is usually our only copy.

I want to see a copy of a document that isn’t on the internet

The FOIA and EIR recommend a policy of ‘disclosure’, in other words if you wish to see a document then you should be able to, as long as giving that information does not break any of the rules in the DPA.

If you wish to see a copy of a document that is no longer available on the internet, you should complete the online request form. Please provide us with as much information as possible about your requirements and include the planning reference number. 

In most cases we will be able to supply a copy, and our preferred method is to provide it electronic format, either by email or on a CD. If you prefer to have a paper copy then this can be arranged, but there may be a charge to cover our costs.

We will not be able to supply any documents containing sensitive or confidential information. This might include documents containing email addresses and telephone numbers, locations of rare species of wildlife, or information that an applicant has told us is commercially sensitive. Any documents we do supply will have personal details hidden.

If we are not sure whether we can supply a document to you because it might breach the DPA, we will ask you to submit a Freedom of Information request so that our legal advisors can check.

Your website says that a document is unavailable – why?

This is not a data protection issue. Some of our documents, particularly older ones, can be prone to a technical problem that prevents them displaying properly. If you wish to see a document but get an error message saying that “The document is unavailable at this time”, please let us know via the online planning system feedback form and we will do our best to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.

What can I use the documents for?

Documents submitted as part of a planning application may be subject to copyright and copyright law, even if they have been available on the internet. You should only use planning application documents for research purposes related to that application. Our supplying you with documents does not constitute permission for you to breach any copyrights that may exist on them. In some circumstances we may contact the copyright owner for clarification before issuing a document to you.

Pre-Application Advice

Large scale projects may involve an informal, voluntary process offering advice and support to applicants before they submit a formal application. As a result of that process they may submit documents to us for evaluation and discussion. As these discussions are not part of the formal planning process and may be considered confidential by the applicant, we do not normally make information about these applications or their documents publicly available.

If you believe there is information from one of these pre-application records that you are entitled to see under FOI or EIR legislation, you should contact us at tpcomplaints@bradford.gov.uk and we will look into it for you.

If we are unsure as to whether we can supply you with the information you have requested, we may ask you to submit a Freedom of Information request.

For small scale or householder applications, our ‘Duty Officer’ service offers informal advice to potential applicants and basic details about these discussions are recorded. As with the pre-application advice process, this information may also be subject to FOI requests.

Building Control Information

Building Control applications are dealt with under separate legislation, but are still subject to the same FOI, EIR and DPA laws. There is no legal requirement to display information about Building Control applications on the internet, but because people may wish to check that work is being done to the relevant building standards the law does allow us to display it.

In order to protect privacy, we will only make available summary information about the application and its progress. We will not publish drawings and plans.

If you believe there is information about a particular project to which you are entitled under the FOIA or EIR, you should submit the appropriate request to us for consideration.

Enforcements

We display limited information about Planning Enforcements on our online planning system, but only when a formal Enforcement Notice has been issued.

I want to make a complaint – who do I contact?

We do our best to comply with all the relevant legislation concerning the treatment of your personal information. If you think we’ve got something wrong, please contact us – either at our Britannia House office, or by email to tpcomplaints@bradford.gov.uk - and we will be happy to investigate your complaint.

Bradford Council also has a formal complaints system, and if you prefer you can use this.

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