In this post we will be tackling Dorset Local Plan on-line response form and how to ensure you get your say. Particularly we will show how to cope with the horror we displayed in the last post where fields previously partially completed vanished when you changed to another field.
We have contacted Councillor Walsh (Planning portfolio holder) and cc’d our local Councillors. Councillor Walsh emailed the author back indicating he had passed the issue over to the IT Department at Dorset Council. We assume they are responsible for designing this form and so should have some answers. We await an email.
But time is getting short. You must respond by the 15th March.
While we regard this form to be such a disaster that it should, in it’s own right, push back the end of consultation, we all have to address the possibility that the Council will not do this. Even though the reworking and clarification of the “Standard Formula” in January also make mincemeat of their numbers.
To get our responses to the council we need to understand what is happening with the form and how to address the shortcomings in the Dorset Local Plan on-line form.
So What is happening?
Here is our opinion. Maybe it is correct. Maybe not. But as nobody from Dorset Council has contacted us so far to clear the issue up, here it is.
(The form was tested by the author again this morning and it is unchanged. It performed in the same manner as described in the videos in this post.)
Basically there is no way of working on more than one response area at a time. Or saving more than one partially completed response area across sessions.
If you change between sections, partially completed responses in the section you have changed from (and yet to be submitted) are deleted.
All you can do is work on one section at a time. Then you have to submit it before you can enter any information in any other section. Otherwise it will be erased.
Consequently there is no way of modifying/correcting earlier sections as you address later sections in the form. There is no way of cross referencing one response to another response yet to be entered. And absolutely no possibility of proof reading the full form reply before submitting it in totality (which isn’t an option).
In essence the form is many independent and mutually exclusive forms. The only commonality is the front cover with your personal details on it. Only one of these forms can be addressed (from start to submission) at a time. Trying to even look at another section of the form while you are half way through filling in a response in another will erase you entry. (See videos in this post).
So What to do?
1. Can we wait for Dorset Council to modify the form?
Personally I don’t think that is going to happen. They would rather ride out the public discontent than correct the form and consequently put-back the end of consultation date.
2. Work around this crippled form as best we can.
Here’s what we suggest.
Go through the form and note down which sections you wish to reply to. Note the titles (example “SED1 The South East Dorset Green Belt”)
Then in a word-processor (NOT on the form!) write your reply. Save it locally.
Repeat this for every section you wish to comment on. Create one document for each section you are going to reply to.
Now you can cross reference them and proof read them as a totality. You have your final response.
Then, if you can, save your documents as PDF’s as well. This is not mandatory though it is a good idea.
Even if Dorset Council do the decent thing and correct the form, doing the above will still be very worthwhile.
Now lets get to tackling the on-line Response form.
Go to one of the sections you wish to comment on. Cut and Paste the text from your related word processor file into that text area. Then also upload the PDF (or docx, ODF or whatever) to the upload area (just below the text area) as well. There is a good reason for this we will come to later.
When it looks OK. Click submit.
Repeat for the other areas. One at a time.
So why add the PDF?
The text in the PDF added for a section will be the same as that you have cut and pasted, but crucially the PDF is formatted properly. The author has a suspicion that the editor used in the on-line form strips out blank lines and possibly carriage returns.
The result is the whole text melds into one incoherent mass. This is based on an email received back for a (accidental) submission. This could be the email handler doing this or it may be the final output of the on-line form. See below.
You should receive an email acknowledgement for each submission.
Instead of tackling the on-line response form you could as an alternative, use the equally sub-optimal paper form. It would appear from this (below) that the council will not just accept your pdfs. They require a photocopy of the completed form as an attachment. They also clearly indicate that the on-line form should behave in a more rational manner!
More on the paper form in another post. Either way, time is short. Get working on those replies in a word-processor! Whichever way you finally respond you will be getting ahead of the game.
Don’t let time drift. Get working on your responses today!