Today’s entry reports on the first Development Consent Order application not to be submitted in hard copy.

On 23 April, Highways England made its latest application for a DCO, for the A38 Derby Junctions project, to improve three junctions on the A38 to the west of the centre of Derby. Instead of delivering a truckload of application documents to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, it was a matter of dropping a few USBs off that would fit into a small envelope.

This is part of a trial of electronic only applications being undertaken by the Inspectorate. Not only will no hard copy be needed when the application is made, but copies of the application will not need to be deposited in libraries, as long as they have free electronic access to the online version of the application. It remains to be seen whether any hard copies are needed at later stages in the process such as at hearings, but let’s hope they can be avoided altogether. Environmental Statements may list the loss of some mature trees as an environmental impact, but they probably don’t list the loss of any trees that was occasioned by printing the Environmental Statement itself (along with the other application documents).

This is clearly to be welcomed by all of us, not just trees, with one small note of caution, namely that those who not have access to the Internet can still participate in the examination of an application. Ensuring wide availability of free online access to applications is one way to achieve that; other ways should be thought about.

It has been fairly routine to have a hard copy of an application at each hearing, but I haven’t spotted it getting much use at the ones I have been to recently – the main screen that displays hearing agendas and occasionally other documents is taking its input from the Inspectorate website rather than any hard copies. However, it would probably be a good idea to have one or more PCs available at hearings to allow application and other documents to be browsed.

Another point to note is that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Application Form Guidance says at paragraph 11 ‘applicants are required to submit full applications in both electronic and hard copy formats’, so that will need to change pronto.

I hope the trial of this application and a couple of others to follow is successful and irons out any issues for when all applications can be made electronic-only (and perhaps one day are required to be made electronic-only).