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Bristol, Plymouth and Newcastle named as leading cities in the field of urban planning

A report published today by Future Cities Catapult, has listed Bristol, Plymouth and Newcastle as leading UK cities with regards to their forward-leaning and technology-driven planning systems.

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, SME’s and academia:

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.

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 key finding 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. The report 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visualisation are needed to formulate policy more efficiently, rather than relying on plans and reports that quickly go out of date.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.

Peter Madden, Chief Executive Officer of Future Cities Catapult, said:

“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.

“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.”


Bristol has steadily been a pioneer of new ways to improve the built environment, implementing the Legible City initiative ahead of anyone else before it was replicated in London and other global cities such as New York and Moscow. The city is equally ambitious in digital planning, utilising data and digital platforms to improve services and public engagement.

Plymouth leads as an innovator in digital planning, having fostered a strong collaborative network among the Council, the local tech community, the local universities, and the community and voluntary sectors which have resulted in creative approaches to digital planning particularly around engaging with the public .

Newcastle has seen a great majority of innovations in digital planning in Newcastle which have been spearheaded by Newcastle University, and firmly grounded in partnerships with the local government, the local tech and digital SME community, as well as large corporations such as IBM and Siemens. The tech community actively interact with people with knowledge in planning and economic development to come up with innovative solutions and offer their expertise in digitisation, visualisation, and engagement.

For further information, supporting imagery, or for media accreditation to our Future of Planning event next week in Birmingham, please contact Naomi Moore on nmoore@futurecities.catapult.org.uk / 07718 584331

About Future Cities Catapult

Future Cities Catapult exists to advance innovation, to grow UK companies, to make cities better. We bring together businesses, universities and city leaders so that they can work with each other to solve the problems that cities face, now and in the future. This means that we catalyse and apply innovations to grow UK business and promote UK exports.

From our Urban Innovation Centre in London, we provide world-class facilities and expertise to support the development of new products and services, as well as opportunities to collaborate with

others, test ideas and develop business models.

We help innovators turn ingenious ideas into working prototypes that can be tested in real urban settings. Then, once they’re proven, we help spread them to cities across the world to improve quality of life, strengthen economies and protect the environment.

Follow us on Twitter @futurecitiescat or sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with our news.

About Catapult centres

The Catapult centres are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth. The Catapults network has been established by Innovate UK. For more information visit catapult.org.uk

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