By Nissa Shahid (@nissa_shahid)
Featured on The Planner.co.uk
Over the past year and a half our Future of Planning: Roadmap to Digitisation project has explored how technology and data can enable an inclusive, efficient planning system. Extensive user research and insights work has identified areas of interest that benefit from positive disruption and we’ve outlined how digital transformation can improve planning problem areas, as identified by planners, developers, consultants and citizens alike. Our vision is to create an end-to-end digital planning service that is data-driven, user-friendly and enriched by technology.
And as part of realising that vision, the latest challenge we’ve tackled is the post-permission stage. Learnings from a previous sprint (housing monitoring) had clearly identified a gap in permissions being granted and permissions being built out at the rate that is needed, so we got to work on addressing this issue.
Many issues were identified through our user research workshop, but one in particular that had potential for correction was the planning conditions attached to decision notices. Planning conditions are instruments of the planning process that make sure that construction meets the criteria for development guidelines once planning permission has been granted.
Unresolved issues that can hinder the application through the planning process are frequently moved to the conditions stage. So, what is normally meant to be a fair list of issues that needs to be resolved before the permission is implemented, can become a long, time-consuming list of difficult to manage issues.
We identified three key challenges in this area:
- the time limit on decision notices and the ensuing race to get the permission implemented before the clock runs out and permission ‘expires’, thus rendering the whole process obsolete;
- the breakdown in communication and management of the post-permission process, which is exacerbated when amendments are necessary, but it is frequently unclear which amendments need to be discharged and which ones have been superseded;
- citizens all too frequently feel locked out of the system once a decision has been made when they simply want to know how development in the area is progressing.
It was with these in mind that our next design sprint – whereby experts (domain knowledge and generalists) gather to brainstorm, design, prototype and test solutions to an identified problem area – was convened.
This led to the creation of PLANtraq – a prototype demonstrating how to overcome challenges identified with planning conditions. The prototype sought to overcome the challenges of communication between the planner and agent by experimenting with the concept of making decision notices ‘live’. This was enabled by digitally stored information updating automatically across all users databases if and when a condition is varied or there are any amendments. A live timer also dates the decision notice and alerts users of any impending expiry dates or deadlines for particular conditions. It also updates if the permission is implemented, and estimates how long development could take based on machine learning of real-time processing of other similar developments. In addition, the prototype also links directly between the planning authority and agent, so all post-permission tasks are identified accordingly.
One of the key insights we found is that people generally tend to confuse digital transformation with simply making documents available on screen. This is not the case. True digital transformation requires the whole process to work with data that can be communicated in a standardised way across all the technology ascribed to it.
Our prototype demonstrates how achievable this procedure can be – that by making data clear, readable and fit-for-purpose we can create systems where communication is seamless, not just between agents and planners but also between human and machine.
But to do this, data standards need to be agreed upon so we can collect data to use through this process and it is vital that we get this right at application submission stage, so that we can iron out issues later on in the process.