Freedom of Information
57. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (2002) will be fully implemented in January 2005. The Act introduces a statutory right for all to access information held by Scottish public authorities. Providing information online will help planning authorities meet the requirements of the legislation. Planning authorities should be aware of their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and seek legal advice as necessary. Further information can found at www.itspublicknowledge.info.
58. Planning authorities should also be aware that Section 62 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2004 provides the power for Scottish Ministers to make the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, which gives certain rights to access environmental information. These regulations will also come into force in January 2005.
59. The Data Protection Act 1998 came into force on 1 March 2000. The Act provides citizens with certain rights in respect of personal data held about them. These include the right of access to such data, a right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress and a right to take action to correct or destroy inaccurate data held about them. The Act also requires public bodies who share information about individual citizens to comply with the data protection principles when processing such information. Planning authorities should seek legal advice as necessary. Further advice can be found at www.dataprotection.gov.uk.
60. The GDPO requires planning authorities to keep a planning register. The information in the planning register, which includes name and address details, must be available to the general public and is therefore in the public domain. In the interests of openness, planning authorities should make it clear to people at the initial point of contact how the information that they are providing will be used, who will see the information and why this is needed. For example, it is good practice to include an appropriate data protection declaration on planning application forms.
61. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, copyright protection automatically arises when any piece of original work is fixed in a tangible medium or expression. Copyright in electronic materials is no different from copyright in any other format. Sections 46 and 47 of the 1988 Act make special provision in relation to statutory inquiries and material open to the public or on an official register. Planning authorities should be aware of the provisions of the 1988 Act and are advised to seek legal advice on how it applies to the delivery of the planning service online.
Standards & Interoperability
62. Common standards help to support systems integration and improve efficiency. Many councils have already started to use agreed standards to ensure interoperability between the information management systems used by different council departments, for example linking planning, building standards, estates and environmental health information together. Most local authorities are doing this on a corporate basis by developing a BS7666 compliant land and property gazetteer, in cooperation with DNA Scotland. This means that all address based data is collected to a standard format and is readily exchangeable. Continued development of standards and metadata will help data transfer between local authorities, statutory consultees and central government, and has the potential to improve the quality of information available for policy development.
63. The UK Cabinet Office has developed an e-government interoperability framework that provides standards for application across the public sector. The aim is to adopt common usable standards which are well supported by the marketplace, for example XML. The UK e-Government Unit has published and continues to update the Government Metadata Framework (e- GMF) which sets standards for metadata, which is used to tag documents with descriptive information. Standards to allow information exchange and better access to government services are provided on the UK Govtalk website. The Scottish Executive is involved in consultations about all these standards and advocates their adoption across the public sector in Scotland - this is set out in the OpenScotland Information Age Framework.
64. Practical support and shared experience in developing electronic systems is available through the e-Planning Group. In England and Wales, the Planning and Regulatory Services Online ( PARSOL) project, which is supported by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ( ODPM), has been developing a range of guidelines, standards, schemas and toolkits to help local authorities in building efficient and transparent online planning and regulatory systems. The information on the PARSOL website will be of interest to those involved with e-planning in Scotland.