What piece of tech has made the biggest difference to your job in recent years?
On introducing yourself as a town planner, you often face the familiar stereotypes of cabinets full of dusty plans and reams of paperwork – far from being at the cutting edge of technological innovation. On the contrary however, town planning has experienced a tech renaissance in recent years. Planning submissions are lodged online on the Planning Portal, new policy documents and plans are published online, and consultation is now largely paperless.
Using online platforms to show planning and spatial trends and policies, in particular, is an area that has grown significantly, and has the potential to expand further still. The Greater Manchester Open Data Infrastructure Map, for example, aggregates everything from water and transport networks to property prices and brownfield land, offering a total overview of the city’s physical, social and green infrastructure. There are several platforms now available, which collate and digitise national and neighbourhood policies, allowing users to instantly see all designations with a single click. Not only does this save planning practitioners an immense amount of time, it also makes the planning system increasingly accessible to residents and stakeholders who may not be familiar with the layers of planning policy.
The American platform, Flux Metro, has taken this to the next level with a 3D model that integrates zoning information with financial viability algorithms, to predict the likely profitability of a scheme. It also allows developers to visualise a site’s context and constraints, including building heights and shadows, to appraise development potential.
If you could invent one piece of tech, what would it do?
With planning departments resources being increasingly stretched across the country, the ability to make standardised aspects of the planning system automated would have great potential to speed up the planning process. Already we are seeing Southwark Council, in partnership with WikiHouse and Future Cities Catapult, working on creating an automated system of screening household extension applications for example. This is not so much about inventing a new piece of tech, but more about making sure an existing tech can be adapted and integrated into the planning system as a standard practice.
What one new/developing technology are you watching closely?
Augmented reality technology has tremendous potential to influence the way in which planning applications are presented in the future and is already starting to infiltrate the planning system. The UrbanPlanAR platform, which has been developed by Heriot-Watt University and LinkNode, shows how AR can be used to allow 3D models of new developments to be superimposed onto actual sites, allowing local residents to walk through potential schemes and appraise their impact.
Similarly, Smart Favela is one example of an award-winning app that uses virtual reality to enable developers to visualise new projects and monitor progress. Residents, using their mobile phones or computers, can review new development proposals and also provide feedback. The software is already being utilised by councils in Bordeaux and Paris to assist with city planning.
Pearce Gunne-Jones, is a senior planner at specialist planning and design consultancy Terence O’Rourke.