A user-centred Back-office Planning System (BoPS) for local authorities


  1. Project outputs
  2. Project timeline

The project led by Southwark Council builds on previously completed discovery and alpha work. It aims to produce a working version of a Back-office Planning System (BOPS) for local authorities by developing better ways of recording and using information.

The project wants to create a user-centred back-office town planning system that uses accurate, up-to-date records and data to increase efficiency across the planning application process and satisfy the needs of end users.

System screenshot

Who are the users?

  • Planning officers who process planning applications
  • Planning managers who sign off the planning application decision
  • Applicants, who will receive a quicker decision and can then start building sooner

Project scope

The minimum viable product (MVP) is being built to be ready for private beta testing by the end of 2020. This will allow local planning authorities to manage Lawful Development Certificate application.

Key features of the MVP include:

  • Data driven process (minimise the use of PDFs)
  • GOV.UK Notify integration (for emailing decisions to applicants)
  • An embedded document management system
  • An API that can be used by a planning register or reporting tools
  • Scalable architecture built on Amazon Web Services

Project outputs

All Local Digital Fund beta projects are asked to provide the following information:

  • User research report
  • Benefits case
  • A user experience demo or design pattern, a data model or a set of instructions
  • Recommendations for next steps

Project report detailing above points can be found on BOPS website.


Try out BoPS at: https://preview.bops.services

For planning officer’s journey use these credentials:

  • Username: assessor@example.com
  • Password: turbinehall

For planning manager’s journey use these credentials:

  • Username: reviewer@example.com 
  • Password: turbinehall

Project timeline

April 2019 - discovery

‘User-centred back office planning system to unlock transformation’ discovery delivers project outputs which are published on the Local Digital website.

February 2020 - alpha

Project team delivers agreed outputs from user-centred back office planning system alpha, published openly on the Local Digital website.

April 2020 - beta

Project had the first show and tell and published Sprint note 1 where they talked about how they:

  • had project kick-off and defined the scope
  • iterated on the prototypes that were developed in alpha
  • created the infrastructure on AWS and shipped the first bit of working code

May 2020 - beta

Project had the second show and tell and published Sprint note 2 where they talked about how they:

  • iterated on our prototype
  • continued testing with people
  • looked more closely at the relevance of information at different stages

Project had the third show and tell and published Sprint note 3 where they talked about how they:

  • delivered the first pass of functionality for officers to assess applications and make recommendations, and for managers to make determinations
  • tested v4 of the Certificate of Lawfulness prototype with officers and managers at four councils

June 2020 - beta

Project had the fourth show and tell and published Sprint note 4 where they talked about how they:

  • mapped the planning application data we would receive from RIPA
  • tested the latest version of the Permitted Development prototype
  • started prototyping how document management might work and others

Project had the fifth show and tell and published Sprint note 5 where they talked about how they:

  • created a basic API and tested it with dummy data
  • started laying the foundations for document management functionality
  • discussed unique IDs and application numbers
  • conducted user testing around how managers ask for corrections and officers upload documents and other tasks

July 2020 - beta

Project had the sixth show and tell and the seventh show and tell and published a sprint note for both sprints where they talked about how they:

  • updated the landing page
  • built document management functionality.
  • started work on full householder applications
  • had BOPS penetration tested by the security partner and other tasks

Project had the eighth show and tell where they talked about how they:

  • continued testing new permitted development and householder application features
  • built a journey that allows managers to send the application back to the officers
  • explored Planning Portal’s data schema and others

August 2020 - beta

Project had the ninth and final show and tell where they talked about how they:

  • created 3 prototypes for full householder based on last sprint’s feedback
  • added features that allow managers to send comments to officers, created a document upload function and others

November 2020 - private beta

  • The project received further grant via Continuous Funding Model
  • Project had a kick off with local authority partners, facilitated by the delivery partner Unboxed.

December 2020 - private beta

The project had their first show and tell where the spoke about their alignment workshop, supporting multiple councils and working on an API to receive data from the RIPA project and others.. Watch a recoding on YouTube.

They’ve also been working on final edits to the BOPS system, such as adding more ‘status’ options to reflect where in the process the application is, a way for officers to indicate if received documents are valid and others. You can find more information on the project’s public Trello board

January 2021 - private beta

The project worked though the festive period on building new features to the system. They also progressed with the Monitoring and Evaluation framework. The team also did their first show and tell of the year, where they did  a demo of the BOPS system receiving application data from RIPA for the very first time! See a recording here.

The project had a workshop with project partners on how to work as a blended team. The team is also focussing on improving their system, they did User Acceptance Testing, started looking at validation letters and many more.

This project has also been preparing for private beta testing, with activities including collating data from ‘real’ historical applications (refused, granted), resilience, bug fixes and integration with Buckinghamshire’s dashboard. They have also been working on their continuous funding proposal. The project had another show and tell where they gave updates about what happened in the last sprint. 

February 2021

The project receives £325,000 of follow-on funding from the Local Digital Fund to continue their work. During the next phase, the project aims to:

  • speed up preparation of the BOPS platform
  • launch a beta platform for processing lawful development certificate applications
  • implement the programme approach for BOPS
  • implement the deeper partnership working for BOPS
  • develop BoPs for householder applications to public beta
  • provide clear, transparent, informative online information on BOPS

The project also made progress towards making BOPS ready for private beta. The team did some user testing and worked on implementing new application page design, enabling the redaction of confidential information from public publishing, looking at audit logs, and so much more! They spoke about this during their 4th show and tell.

The project had a 5th show and tell where they spoke about their work to accept and process full householder applications. This included work on the back-end, making improvements to content, further user testing and consultations. The project has also started looking at Information Governance activities such as, Data Protection Impact Assessment.

March 2021

The project has been focussing on some more minor system improvements. This sprint the BOPS project held their sixth show and tell, where they spoke about their work to accept and process full householder applications. 

In addition, the project worked on improving the permitted development application that submits information from RIPA to BOPS. The project has also started looking at Information Governance activities such as Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA).

BOPS project continued with a number of activities, such as:

  • developing  the system to allow planners/managers to download PDF decision notice
  • allowing officers to add mail applications to the BOPS system directly
  • setting up a project board that will enable collaborative decision making

The project held a 7th show and tell (available on YouTube). At the show and tell the project covered:

  • requesting to go live with GOV.UK Notify
  • making to the ‘edit application’ feature
  • staging environments for all of their partners and many more!

The project has also been working on a number of non-development items that include DPA, contracts for beta, setting up a project board for Southwark and partners and doing more user testing.

RIPA and BOPS projects presented at the Planning Officer Society meeting where they spoke about project vision and gathered officer feedback.

April 2021

The project had an alignment meeting with the digital place based engagement project to discuss how the full consultation process can work and which project can tackle which consultation parts. The project had a householder MVP meeting with their supplier and will look to involve partners in this in the near future. The project is now starting a new phase where they focus on full householder applications. For this, they held a number of workshops with partner councils to look at full householder MVP.

RIPA and BOPS projects also had a meeting to discuss a joint approach to notifications to be sent from BOPS and RIPA systems to ensure a seamless user experience.

BOPS also delivered a presentation at ‘Urban Design London’ on the future of planning data.

May 2021

The project held their 1st sprint show and tell of the new beta stage where they spoke about progress with the following activities on Lawful Development Certificates (LDCs):

  • add location plan to decision notice
  • confirming legal requirements for LDC’s decision notice
  • building a development strategy
  • building Validation: requests for change
  • development – updating a description of work 
  • design – requesting a new document / requesting a replacement document

The project also held additional workshops with project partner councils to agree an MVP scope for full householder applications.

The project hosted a 2nd Show & Tell for their 3rd beta stage. In the show and tell they covered:

  • validations: a tool built to request applicant for changes to the application
  • considerations research
  • validation user guide and others

 They also progressed with more user research sessions and are putting together a BOPS Validation Guide.