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Blog - Land Supply as Place of Innovation

This blog post is the second in a series of guest entries written by the winners of the Catapult’s Future of Planning Open Call. Between February and April 2017, nine teams are developing new technologies and prototypes to create a more data-driven and digitally enabled planning system. This week, we feature a blog post from Sebastian Weise of PlaceChangers who leads the ‘OurLand’ project which is focused on making it easier for local councils to compile, update, and coordinate their land supply portfolios through an innovative peer review model.

Follow @PlaceChangers to learn more about their project.

In times of population growth and a severe housing shortage in the UK, planning needs to be flexible and responsive to cope with changing development patterns. So far, public planning services have perhaps not benefited from open-accessible citizen-centric platforms that can achieve the flexibility and transparency. Here, the Future of Planning project demonstrates a clear need for a more flexible and user-friendly plan-led system that can steer delivery of housing in equitable and timely manner.

No doubt, planning is a complex social process. In part, planning’s important role is in ordering the myriad of investments that various actors make in cities at any one time. By nature, what was planned inevitably differs from what actually occurs in the real world. For example, constraints and delays appear, forcing development schedules to adapt during construction of housing units. Thus, planners face the challenge to stay on top of changes to the supply of housing so to steer future developments. Robust evidence on land supply can help to ensure that new proposals work well with local aspirations.

After workshops with local authorities and developers on how land supply is tracked and monitored, the following issues stood out. Firstly, evidence on housing supply is hard to assemble in a timely manner. Few local authorities have real-time processes with regular updates to land supply data based on monitoring of construction on individual sites. In Manchester, about half of the 10 local authorities lack a ‘live process’; about a third of local authorities report gross completions per each site only. Furthermore, replication of tasks across departmental boundaries results in frequent re-keying and much mundane data work. Excel and Access are the tools of choice but no particularly suited for real-time monitoring. Also, data schemas (the ways of organising and categorising site information) substantially differ between local authorities making data harder to compare. The list goes on.

Given these challenges, how might we make land supply more timely?

PlaceChangers is now working towards a publicly-accessible service that gives planners, developers, and residents the opportunity to contribute to the monitoring of construction outcomes. While most funds go into the vetting of planning applications, the detailed monitoring of construction outcomes is of lesser prominence. This draws attention to the substantial benefits planning might gain from raised transparency in how development outcomes are tracked over time. By carefully exposing development sites that require verification of construction progress, the OurLand project aims to test how to alleviate planners’ work loads by means of a clever scheduling service that also collates responses for review by the planner. Through such a system, councils should be able to plan forward rather than chasing their tail. In the next couple of months, we are working towards a service prototype that we plan to test with a range of local authority partners.

Housing land supply is comprised of three sources covering different planning horizons. These include active and about-to-start construction in planning applications, strategic sites earmarked in local plans, and potential future sites identified through ‘calls for sites’. Importantly, 80% of the 5-year-housing supply is covered by planning applications (as active or about-to-start construction).

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