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Digital Urban Planning: De-Risking Planning For SME Developers

Find out how digital planning tools can help local authorities reduce the barriers to small and medium-sized builders so they can build housing on brownfield sites.

As urban populations continue to grow, the need for housing intensifies. This puts pressure on local authorities to find more innovative solutions to help unlock all types of land for residential development within their city or town. At the same time, we have a broken housing market with too few suppliers of new homes.

Land suitable for housing is often at a premium within towns and cities and green space is protected, which means brownfield sites, those previously developed for other purposes, are prioritised for development. However, due to the nature of the land, it can present challenges that need to be overcome before building can start; from ecological considerations, to flood risk and contamination assessments. The planning system requires all developers to set out how they propose to assess and manage these kinds of risks in their planning application.

Whilst larger developers can afford to employ consultants to understand and manage this part of the planning system, this isn’t necessarily the case for a small or medium-sized developer. This can discourage them from developing potential sites which leads to fewer houses being built, putting further pressure on local authorities to find a solution to overcome this.

The Gateshead SME Homebuilder De-risking Tool – Digitising data for greater planning efficiency

For one local authority, Gateshead Council, it was a priority to find a solution, to enable local small and medium-sized builders to take advantage of available brownfield land in the town and to help support all developers, particularly the smaller ones, to deliver more homes.

Gateshead, a town with a long industrial legacy has many brownfield sites close to the town centre with potential for development, however, many smaller developers were choosing not to build on them, for a variety of reasons.

Contaminated land, ecological considerations, flood risk, low-end values, difficulty accessing funding, and a sluggish market had led to the perception that developing on brownfield sites in Gateshead carried too much commercial risk.

To address this, after being connected by Newcastle University Research Fellow Paul Cowie, Gateshead Council worked with Future Cities to define, develop and test a digital tool which would de-risk the planning and development process for small and medium-sized developers.

They are now looking for an innovative UK business partner to help them take this concept tool to the next stage through bespoke software development.

Neil Wilkinson, Head of Planning, Gateshead Council, talks about how the Council is using digital planning tools to build more houses.

If you’re an innovative company with ideas on how to further develop this or any other digital planning tools get in touch with us.

For those local authorities interested in finding out more about what this de-risking tool can do, we have identified the potential economic, social, and environmental benefits it can deliver:

  • Shortened development cycle – without the tool, the development process depends on a paper-based system and requires collection and submission of data and plans and strategies from different sources. The tool expedites the process by automatically collecting the information from various sources relating to a site and can potentially shorten the development cycle significantly.
  • Reduce error – the tool lists all the assessments and reports required when submitting a planning application for a site, which will improve the quality of the submissions and reduce the time spent reviewing them.
  • Catalyse developments – the above two benefits can reduce the development of overhead costs for SME developers. This, along with the availability of the development information, will help SME developers participate in more development opportunities since overhead costs can be a big burden. This will help create local construction jobs and increase the supply of local housing.
  • Increased social wellbeing – housing is a key component of individual wellbeing and one of the 11 categories in the United Nations wellbeing index. Enabling and catalysing the development of local housing to meet residents’ demand will bring social cohesion and meet basic human needs.

If you’re a local authority interested in finding out more about this tool or are keen to work with innovative UK companies to digitise your planning data, get in touch.

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