Charlotte Orrell is a planner at Iceni Projects with a strong interest in planning technology, and is part of the ‘Iceni Futures’ sector group which aims to help drive and support innovation within the planning industry and ensure Iceni Projects is at the forefront of change.
What are the new skills that planners will have to learn?
When picturing a town planner, many people might imagine someone tucked away in a dusty old room, with a mahogany desk covered in endless streams of paper, reviewing planning applications against multiple volumes of policy. The profession isn’t renowned as an industry for embracing or leading on smart technology, but there is change and movement happening.
As we start to witness the collation and proactive use of data and the everyday emergence of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and 3D modelling into the planning world, planners are having to adapt to keep up with their real estate and construction counterparts.
Bar the obvious practical skills, planners are going to have to learn to trust City Information Models and the data that supports them, to not be afraid of transparency and to collaborate with one another across public and private sectors and the wider property industry. Planners are going to have to learn how to show, manage and use information to bring the industry into the 21st Century.
What will planners’ daily routines include in 2040?
We’re now seeing steady progress towards the eventual inclusion of AI technology into Local Authority Planning Departments. Systems which can both validate and assess planning applications and automatically collate the data from the moment an application is made. Whilst we’re seeing the beginnings of this in relation to householder submissions, this will expand to cover full planning applications.
Planning officers will no longer have to focus on the large pile of smaller scale applications, whilst the simplified and easily navigable system will allow private individuals to submit their own household planning applications without the need of a planning consultant. Routines will stray away from admin tasks to strategic and larger-scale planning which still require creative and a human input. As Stefan Webb, director of digital planning at Future Cities Catapult, now Connected Places Catapult, stated, technology has the potential to “free planners to plan”.
Increasing amounts of data is to become both open and real-time. This information is beginning to feed into City Information Models, connecting city-wide 3D models such as VuCity and BIM data with other sources such as planning designations, sales values and Valuation Office Agency records. As data gathering becomes more connected we’ll begin to see real-time data exported into the CIM models providing continuously up-to-date information and statistics, removing out-of-date evidence documents that support a borough’s development plan, and allowing planning departments’ policies to remain strategic and relevant.
Data and policy will be easily accessible, transparent and visual for planning consultants, local residents and developers to utilise. Planners will spend time inputting a single address into a search bar and less time pressing ‘Ctrl-F’ on a multitude of large PDF documents.
Examples of tech for planners
There is an ever-increasing number of startups providing exciting and thought-provoking technology into the planning profession covering a wide range of ideas and issues touched upon above.
Within the public sector, Milton Keynes Council, London Borough of Southwark and Hackney are examples of those leading the way on the inclusion of AI technology. Design agencies, Snook and Hactar, are working with Hackney to develop a digital service for planning applications which will both provide an automated guide to submitting householder planning application and also shift from a software provider to a data processor. Whilst not live, you can test their prototype http://smpa.hactar.is/.
From the planning consultant and developer angle, LandInsight brings together key maps, wider data and policy under one system. This includes, local authority proposals, maps, recent planning applications, ownership data and price comparables providing both relevant planning and site sourcing information.
Finally, in-house at Iceni we have also launched the award-winning Sustainable Development Scorecard. A workable, accessible and engaging method for testing the sustainable development credentials of schemes to provide a more consistent approach to sustainable development and to make informed data driven decisions on investment.
What will be the benefits for planners?
Technology will make the planning process more efficient, economical and transparent.
Implementing emerging technology will cut the time spent on smaller applications and the subsequent circular planning application process. Data with be updated automatically and time number crunching already old figures, behind closed doors, will be significantly reduced.
Data and advances in 3D modelling will create real-time objective information which will create transparency in the system and help in making better informed decisions right down to the local resident. Efficiency measures will lead to financial savings both for the planning department and the applicant, whilst real-time data gathering will allow trends to be predicted earlier and planned for within policy.
When do you expect to see the tipping point for adoption of more modern methods?
The tipping point has been passed. It may seem a slow and stepped process but the number of government initiatives and non-profit organisations are increasing, along with support and finance to allow start-ups and boroughs to start implementing their ideas.
Recent examples are the UK Ministry for Housing, Communities + Local Government, the Government Digital Service, Local Digital Declaration (July 2018) and the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Royal Town Planning Institute and Future Cities Catapult (November 2018) to build awareness of data sharing and of plantech.
Who will be the winners + losers?
We all have the potential to benefit from plantech. The data-gathering exercise will highlight trends and inform wider government policy beyond the planning profession. To ensure we don’t ‘lose out’ we need local authorities, government organisations, planning consultancies and individuals to embrace the emerging technologies, take a risk on and help test early prototypes, to trust the systems and to collaborate between one another.
As Melanie Leech, CEO British Property Foundation, usefully summarised: “Technology and property are very different worlds, often moving to different beats. As these two worlds come together, we must make sure that we have the culture, the environment and the policies in place to harness the benefits”.
Are you a startup needing to gather data or to test planning technology products? Iceni Projects is there to help and support you. Please get in touch with Charlotte Orrell for further information and opportunities to collaborate.