Interaction is the key to local democracy

4 Dec 2007

The deployment of e-government services is seen as pivotal in Fingal County Council’s quest to bring local democracy to citizens and enable them to access Council services in the communities where they live and work.

The council says its aim is to deliver efficient management of citizen contact systems and to offer a far greater number of virtual contact points where citizens of Fingal can access services and information.

Among the services that the council has provided to date are online mapping and online planning which were launched in November 2006.

The online mapping system gives citizens the ability to browse and search online maps of various services provided by the council.

It provides them with instant information about the location of services in an easy to understand format at a time and place of their choosing. It also enables citizens to search for council services on the basis of location.

Also, the online planning system provides access to details of planning applications submitted to Fingal Council.

In the past it was necessary to visit the council offices in Swords or Blanchardstown to view details of planning applications, but this can now been be done via the convenience of the internet.

The new system provides the ability to search for planning applications and to view summaries of weekly planning applications.

The online mapping system includes maps of beaches, burial grounds, libraries, recycling centres and schools as well as maps of all the planning applications.

The system is designed with ease of use in mind. The first step in using the system is to select the type of service. It is then possible to navigate to a particular location via the online map. Alternatively, the search tools can be used to find a service by its location or description.

When the service has been found, further details can be displayed — in the case of beaches, for example, information is available on bathing water quality and facilities available.

The system can also be accessed from the relevant sections of the website. To use the beaches example again, its section of the website gives details of the various beaches in Fingal. For every beach there is a link to the online mapping system which will display its location.

The system has also been linked to the online planning system to view details of mapped planning applications. A facility has recently been added to the system to search for the closest public services. By selecting a service and clicking on the map, the various places where the service is provided will be listed, including how far away they are.

The online planning system includes full details of planning applications lodged with Fingal County Council. This includes application information, planning decision, planners report, correspondence, architectural plans and site maps.

There is also an integrated link to the online mapping system to display the location and site boundary of the application.

The search facility can be used to find planning applications based on reference number, address, applicant name, or date. As the system is linked to the online mapping it is also possible to find planning applications by browsing the maps of applications in the online mapping service. A further feature in the system is the ability to view weekly summaries of planning applications.

Both systems have been designed to integrate seamlessly with each other and the council’s website.

Fingal County Council plans to continuously enhance these system to provide improved services and information to citizens.

There are plans to further develop the online mapping system to allow searching for addresses. It is intended to link this to the search for closest services so that citizens can easily find the closest services to their home. It is also intended to provide a facility to report problems to the Council online by specifying the location on the map.

Future hopes for the online planning system include accepting observations and payment for observations online in the first instance. Ultimately, it is intended to enable citizens to apply and pay for planning applications online.

These services are practical examples of e-Government implementations in Fingal County Council which provide tangible benefits to the citizens and businesses of Fingal. They reduce the time taken by people to find out information about council services — all without the need to visit the council offices.

By John Kennedy