Going paperless

Article image - Going paperless Members of Murrindindi Shire Council’s Planning Unit, Melissa Crane (left) with the more commonly used iPad and Nicole Maguire (right) ‘throwing away’ old paper records.

Murrindindi Shire Council’s Planning Unit is paving the way for small rural councils in going  ‘paperless’, following the introduction of an electronic document and records management system across the organisation.

The Planning Unit began using HP TRIM in April 2014 and immediately identified ways the system could support a paperless approach to its planning function.

Strategic planning was made paperless immediately and physical files were no longer created. Since then, members of the Unit have gradually reduced their reliance on paper for planning permit applications.

The last planning application paper file was created in April this year, one year after the Unit was introduced to the electronic management system.

Planning certificates were the first statutory process to go paperless, significantly speeding up processing times.

Applications are now received electronically by the planning staff, removing the Information Management team ‘middle man’ from the process.

Certificates are now generated electronically and emailed to the applicant. Previously, Information Management would receive the application, retrieve the property file, register, print and provide the application to the Planning Unit and certificates were mailed in the post to applicants.

Murrindindi Shire Council CEO Margaret Abbey said that the benefits of the paperless approach are demonstrated in recent council planning statistics.

“Despite an increase in applications received in the 2014/15 financial year, Council continues to exceed its key performance indicators for processing these applications.

“Our statistics showed that we performed well relative to other councils with 78 percent of our planning permits issued within the statutory timeframe of 60 days, compared to 71 percent for other rural municipalities, 69 percent for the peri-urban region and 65 percent state wide.

“Much of this can be attributed to the efficiencies of the paperless approach used by the Planning Unit. I understand very few rural councils have been able to migrate away from paper property files at this stage, as we have received a number of phone calls from other councils interested in our approach and just how we got there.”

A number of changes have been made to the Unit’s processes to enable the paperless approach to be a success. On-site inspections are carried out using a laptop and assessment checklists and officer reports have been modified so they can be completed electronically
and remotely.”

In addition to faster processing times, application documents are now available for viewing on Council’s website which improves access for isolated communities or for those with access issues.

Application files can also be accessed by any member of the Planning Unit when enquiries are received, removing the need to locate a paper file first. This removes concerns about paper files or documents going missing.

“While there are still further efficiencies to be delivered and some software constraints to be ironed out, Council’s Planning Unit is committed to freedom from paper and is forging on.

“It is important for small rural shires to encourage development. Expediting planning and building applications will assist in that goal and give confidence to those considering development here.”