Town hall's tech edge: 24/7 know-your-'hood apps

Councils believe technology and apps are the key to engaging with today's residents and business owners.
Councils believe technology and apps are the key to engaging with today's residents and business owners.


How much do you really know about what's going on in your own backyard?

Dealing with the local council is one of life's great pains, but some are now using apps to offer residents 24/7 access to local development applications, surf reports, waste collection bookings, GPS shuttle bus tracking, library book search, live reports on parking spots and other information on local facilities.

BlinkMobile Interactive's platform powers web apps and tech tools for about 30 councils around Australia including Brisbane, Tweed Shire, Warringah,Ballina Shire, Willoughby, Moreland City Council, Sunshine Coast City Council, Hornsby and Wyong Shire.

Brisbane's app allows people to do a lot more than report potholes - they can also access a detailed flood report for their home.

But Randwick Mayor Scott Nash reckons his new app blows the competition out of the water. The councils appear to be in the midst of a high-tech arms race.

Unlike some of the other councils' apps, the new myRandwick iPhone app and HTML5 mobile site asks for your address at the outset and automatically targets you with relevant information. This includes development applications in your area (including the ability to make a formal submission), surf reports provided by lifesavers at Coogee, Maroubra and Clovelly beaches, maps, local events and council news such as notifications they have fixed a pothole in your area.

It will also tell you when your next recycling, general rubbish, green waste, e-waste and chemical waste clean-up days are occurring, while residents can also book up to two unscheduled cleanups directly through the app.

"It's actually a tailored application based on where you live as opposed to just being given a whole blanket amount of information which you may not be able to use," said Nash.

"It can tell you who your local council representatives are, how many DAs there are within 500 metres of your home."

Nash said people were time poor and so the council had to adapt and provide a way for them to engage without visiting or calling a council office. "It also allows us to provide the service more quickly because we immediately get notification of the problem, we know where it is, we can respond straight away," he said.

BlinkMobile director Darren Besgrove said his apps were used by council workers - including at Marrickville, Auburn, Warringah, Wyong and Logan - when carrying out health and tree inspections, by lifeguards reporting beach incidents and for dealing with contractors.

"For health inspectors or tree inspectors, people that are outdoor ...

we've got some data particularly from Logan that says productivity improvements are approaching 50 per cent," he said.

A NSW government green paper on a proposed new planning system, released this month, listed as one of its key recommendations the need to make use of IT and "e-planning" to increase engagement with the community.

"A comprehensive 'e–planning' network will not only ensure the entire development application process and relevant materials are online, but will also allow for the user to view all  plans, planning documents and applications that apply to any one development site or piece of land," the green paper reads.

Included in the recommendation is a paragraph saying the government intends to establish "an online planning portal with a 'Google-style' viewer that will provide users with access to the planning spatial datasets relating to zoning and the other key development controls, including floor space ratio, height of building, heritage conservation areas and heritage items, minimum lot size, key sites and land reservation acquisition".

A spokesman for Randwick Council said that soon its app would offer the ability to take a photo of council-related problems like damaged roads and send them in along with a tagged GPS location.

The council has also announced it is trialling free Wi-Fi in popular areas and parks such as The Spot, High Cross Park and either Coogee or Clovelly beach. It has opened the plan up to public consultation.

Parramatta City Council offers the Parra Smart Parking application that provides live navigation to car spaces, using the smartphone's GPS to display nearby car parks. For each car park users can view up-to-the-minute occupancy rates.

Another Paramatta Council app, Parra Shuttle Bus Tracker, lets users view real-time tracking of the free shuttle buses that the council provides.

A Paramatta Council spokesman said the two apps had been downloaded more than 4000 times since their launch in October.

"We have also received interest from people in countries such as Kuwait and Dubai, who are keen to see demonstrations of the applications," the spokesman said.

This story Town hall's tech edge: 24/7 know-your-'hood apps first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.