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Three UK cities take planning lead

The Future of Planning programme explores how design, data and digital tools can improve the planning process in the UK

Bristol (above), Newcastle and Plymouth are listed as having
Bristol (above), Newcastle and Plymouth are listed as having

Thirty-three different planning initiatives around the world were examined

A key finding was that planning occurs in silos and on different platforms

Planning consultants are still behind the curve in data-driven tools

Bristol, Plymouth and Newcastle have been named as leading UK cities with regards to their forward-leaning and technology-driven planning systems, new research finds.


The report is part of Future Cities Catapult’s Future of Planning programme, which explores how design, data and digital tools can improve the ways in which planning is conducted in the UK.


Examining 33 different planning initiatives from cities and regions around the world, the three cities were praised for their advocacy of new ideas and digital tools, and collaboration with big business, SMEs and academia.


The research investigated how new techniques and technologies are beginning to permeate the planning system both in the UK and globally, and found that innovation is sparse, with few places adopting digital and data-driven techniques across all elements of the planning process.


A major stumbling block is that planning occurs in silos, with work taking place on separate platforms using different technologies, techniques and data standards, thereby reducing the opportunities for collaboration, coordination and iterative co-design, said Future Cities Catapult.


It also found that there is no private sector monopoly on innovation in planning. Planning consultants, developers and, to a lesser extent, architects, are still behind the curve in adopting data-driven and digitally-enabled tools to improve the efficiency and engagement with the planning system.


The report calls for more use of data and digital tools across the planning piece, arguing the need for innovations across the following themes:


  • Data aggregation, analysis and visualisation are needed to formulate policy more efficiently, rather than relying on plans and reports that quickly go out-of-date
  • Facilitating communication around plans and their impacts, using dynamic and visual means to engage the public and stakeholder groups to help them decide if the proposal will be good for the area
  • Using more outcome-focused data (rather than just outputs) to help Local Planning Authorities and developers ensure plans are meeting the needs they set out to address
  • Making identification and appraisal of development sites more efficient and effective by using digital tools that can quickly examine a site’s context and accessibility, planning history, and heritage or environmental constraints
  • Offering technological solutions to designing schemes so they are based on data and evidence, using visualisation and scenario analysis. This helps avoids the use of 3D models and computer-generated imagery which generally paint an ideal image of a project that can be far removed from the finished result.


“People are always grumpy about the planning system and how difficult it is to change. With exciting technological advances such as Big Data and the Internet of Things, the time has come to make digital solutions for planning happen, said Peter Madden, chief executive officer of Future Cities Catapult.


“We want to break the silos that divide and delay processes, which is why we’ve launched our Future of Planning programme. By integrating the various elements of the planning system, we hope the process will be simpler and cheaper, and deliver the kind of homes, communities and cities everyone wants.”


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