Greater Cambridge Case Study

21 September 2021
Nicole Zolfaghari

Greater Cambridge Case Study

Planning is changing and Local Authorities are being encouraged to adopt a “digital first” strategy for producing and publishing Planning documents going forward. This change in focus enables Planning teams to look at the advantages that digital plans can bring rather than being limited to the idea of simply presenting a paper plan in digital form. Digital plans can, when done well, provide a much more accessible way to approach local Planning proposals and lower the barrier of entry to engagement. With many businesses recently switching to remote working, digital plans have become an essential part of the planning process.

Over the past few years Greater Cambridge Planning and JDi Solutions Ltd have worked together to incrementally improve the presentation and accessibility of planning documents online using JDi’s OpusConsult system. These developments ultimately led to the creation of the new dedicated Greater Cambridge Planning Consultations website and initially focussed on two main areas: improving the user journey and improving the presentation of online documents.

 "Our team at Greater Cambridge Shared Planning and JDi Solutions Ltd have worked closely together throughout the project and will continue to do so, we're really pleased with the approach and way of working we have developed with the JDi team and are looking forward to continuing to develop the digital plan with them." Paul Frainer, Assistant Director Strategy and Economy of Greater Cambridge Shared Planning

Improving the User Journey

In order to make it easier to engage with online consultations in OpusConsult we embedded the entire user login / registration process within the representation form itself to ensure a single, streamlined interaction with the system. No need to log in separately, everything is there when the he user clicks to begin creating a representation.

Greater Cambridge Planning OC2Connect Site

These changes paved the way for a new feature in OpusConsult called OC2Connect which enables consultations to be run on any website while the representations themselves are collected and managed within OpusConsult as always. 



This new feature was first used by Southend Borough Council for their dedicated Local Plan website in early 2020 and again by Greater Norwich in February 2021 for their Regulation 19 Local Plan Publication document

Improving the Presentation of Online Documents

Using templates to create consistent page layouts and adding show / hide blocks within the document allows pages to be created which focus on the core message while providing easy access to the additional information required in Planning proposals. 


"It's really important for us as a Local Authority to improve the depth and breadth of engagement when we’re consulting our communities. We are also really focussed on shifting planning towards a digital approach which will help facilitate many of our aims in this respect." - Paul Frainer, Assistant Director Strategy and Economy of Greater Cambridge Shared Planning

Greater Cambridge Local Plan Dedicated Website

In November 2020 we began to discuss ideas to take these developments even further and the dedicated Greater Cambridge Local Plan consultations website, launched on 31st August 2021 was built from those ideas. It features:

  • Simple, easy to use design and navigation, making it easy for users to find information about Planning proposals
  • Template based page layouts allowing information to be entered and edited easily whilst ensuring a consistent layout for users
  • Evidence base media library for labelling, categorising and presenting evidence base documents
  • Seamless integration with OpusConsult via OC2Connect 



Throughout the site build Greater Cambridge and JDi Solutions staff worked closely together holding weekly remote progress meetings on MS Teams and managing all issues and ideas on a Kanban style board provided by GitHub using an Agile development methodology.

As with all projects of this nature we’ve developed lots of ideas for how we can continue to improve and develop the site further and we look forward to working on those ideas in the future. JDi Solutions’ policy of continuous development and sharing best practice means that some of the new features we developed for Greater Cambridge have already been implemented on the Southend Local Plan site and we look forward to sharing further developments across the three sites and others in the future.

Next Steps

Moving forward, we are looking to create a highly configurable homepage as well as adding a document map for easier navigation. With the inclusion of the new document map, we will make it even quicker for users to navigate to specific interest points with minimal effort.

The immediate programme of work, now that the website has been launched, is to run a user testing and feedback programme. This will involve users accessing the site, as well as users who work on the back end process to give feedback on how they find their experience with the UX. Using these insights and user journeys we’ll be able to iteratively develop and improve the user experience of the website. This step is important for the website to fall in line with the Digital Declaration that GCSP are signatories of as it is not just the digital product but also the service that needs to be designed around user needs.

Future plans are to use this as the basis as GCSP embark on their data-driven planning system, and move away from pdfs.

Technical Details

Greater Cambridge case studyThe new site was built using the Drupal open source CMS with page templates constructed using the Paragraphs contributed module.