Scottish Government - Planning and Building Standards

Transforming how people apply for planning permission

The Challenge

The Scottish Government is aiming to transform how people apply for planning permission and building warrants. This is a key piece of a much larger multi-year transformation of Scotland's Planning and Building Standards services. The Digital Planning team is committed to a strategic overhaul to cope with increased demand for self-service planning application tools.

This demand has been driven by a huge increase in applications and construction work across the country. Coupled with changing planning and building standards rules, many applicants have been finding the planning application process frustrating and valuable data is being under-used. This has led to many planning and building standards applications being invalid due to incorrect payments or missing information.

We were asked to investigate and build a prototype application portal and a payment service that could be taken forward to a private beta, then full-scale deployment.

The Objectives

  • Help users get their applications right

    We aimed to reduce the number of invalid applications, increase efficiency, and improve accuracy.
  • More useful data

    We wanted to enable better use of the available data from planning and building standards within the service. We also looked at producing more structured data that the planning services can use.
  • Part of the puzzle

    We were working as part of a wider transformation programme. We aimed to contribute with well-designed services, improved user engagement, business consultancy, and strategic recommendations.

The Insight

Invalid applications are often due to incorrect payments leading from misunderstood criteria, missing or low-quality drawings, or inaccurate information. Better guidance and questions, structured by available data, would produce a service that better serves users and meets wider reform  aims.

There were also inefficiencies with validation and integration that could be significantly improved with adjusted service approaches.

Key outcomes included:

  • functional .NET prototypes of a new application portal and payment service
  • following recommendations from a Digital Scotland Services Standards assessment and from ourselves, the Digital Planning team intending to take the alpha service prototypes forward to beta and live, in line with its digital strategy
  • Storm ID becoming trusted partners and technical advisers to the team
Storm ID have been a trusted adviser... The output from the discovery and alpha has been excellent. The work will give the project a solid platform to build on at the next beta stage.Brodie Shepherd, Product Owner & Delivery Manager Digital, Planning, Architecture and Regeneration Division, Scottish Government

Key Features

Service redesign

We rethought the application process from the point of view of the user, understanding with research how users approach applications. We developed a question set that allows users to easily find out what kinds of applications they need to make. Applications are modular and data-driven: this makes them easily scalable while collecting structured, measurable data.

Functional .NET prototypes

We built functional prototypes of services for applying for planning and building warrants, helping users calculate their fee, and making easy online payments. Building these as functioning prototypes allowed us to properly test functionality and data integrations in preparation for public beta.

OS maps integration with constraints data

Certain locations have constraints which may impact what assessments or applications an applicant may need. Constraints such as flood risk, listed buildings, and conservation areas. By using an address and location search, and enabling the applicant to draw the boundary of their work, the service uses available data to cross-check whether restrictions will apply.

The Process


  • We undertook a discovery process with 34 planning authorities (32 local, 2 national parks) and their staff, alongside expert and non-expert users
  • This level of stakeholder engagement was key to managing the project in the context of the wider programme of work
  • We also conducted a technical investigation into third-party integrations and management portals

Service design

  • We used the information we gathered in discovery to co-design solutions with the client and policy advisors
  • We produced sketches and a service map that we iterated with feedback from end users


  • During alpha, we developed, iterated and tested the viability of functional prototypes that integrated with third-party data
  • We broke down the current application forms into data components to ensure future data was more structured and valuable
  • We also updated guidance to better match user expectations


  • We undertook automated quality testing alongside accessibility and usability testing of the service


  • As a public, government service, we were subject to a full assessment from a Digital Scotland Services Standards panel

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