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CityX: ideas into action

Digital Urban Planning: FuturePlan

We created FuturePlan to share information openly, and measure the impact of development on cities over time. It reveals great opportunities for UK businesses to build new products and services in urban planning.

New developments in our cities create significant impact over time. Infrastructure including housing, transport links and business parks affects not only the landscape of the city, but also its environment, demographics and economy.

Currently, it’s difficult to understand how a planned development will contribute to changing our cities in the years or decades to come. It isn’t always easy to see the challenges and opportunities it will bring, or how it relates to other projects.

Planning information holds the key to understanding change in our cities, yet it is often held in silos, is difficult to access, and there is no overview of proposed developments. Retrieving, generating and analysing information is expensive and time consuming. Unlocking these issues, building a digitally enabled planning and development process has the potential to produce greater benefits for local authorities, businesses and citizens. There’s huge potential for innovative UK businesses to innovate in this market. We wanted to look at what might be possible.

So we developed FuturePlan; a user experience prototype that aims to digitally capture and openly share data produced by developers as part of the planning process.


Here is how FuturePlan is helping with planning in Birmingham

If you’re interested in using or developing FuturePlan or other digitised planning tools, get in touch with us.

If you’re a business with new ideas or you feel that you can build on FuturePlan, we want to hear from you.

In our blog, we set out why planning is ripe for innovation.

Find out more about FuturePlan, and how local authorities, public and private planners and data developers can contribute to its success in our Q&A.



Q&A: the Evolution of FuturePlan

Stefan Webb is the Director of Digitising Planning at the Catapult. Here he explains the opportunities offered by FuturePlan and how UK businesses and city planners can work together to make it a success.

What is FuturePlan? What does it seek to do?

FuturePlan is the prototype of a user-friendly digital platform. It collects the most pertinent data from planning applications and masterplans about the jobs, homes and green spaces that will result from new development. It then enables users to see this across a city and over time.

It seeks to address the need for a digitally enabled approach to planning, helping to modernise the process; allowing developers, authorities and planners to share and access information more easily and cost-effectively. It will help communities and businesses understand what is happening in their cities.

What challenge does FuturePlan address?

Even in the smallest city, there are so many planning applications that it’s impossible for any one individual to keep track. Simply accessing basic facts, like how many homes are being built at any one time, or how much office space will be opened in the next 12 months, means viewing, dozens of separate documents.

Understanding the impact of a development in terms of the number of jobs that might result, the number of new car journeys, or where new trees will be planted is limited to a small number of individuals – for example, the local authority case officer responsible for the development and the developer’s planning consultant. The wider range of people who could benefit from this information, from those planning school places to the small business wondering about future trade, are none the wiser.

Under the current system, retrieving this data is a costly and lengthy process, and has to be done repeatedly by whichever party needs to access it. FuturePlan aims to make the planning process digital, freeing up data about the location, type and nature of future development and its likely economic, social and environmental impacts. In this way, everybody can benefit from it. What are the main benefits of FuturePlan?

FuturePlan uses data that is already produced by developers as part of the planning process and analyses and communicates it more effectively. Creating a platform to modernise the planning system like this has many advantages, not only for local government and developers, but for the people who live in those communities. Some of the main benefits are:

Providing local authorities with a single view on the future of a city, by sharing data about all the present and proposed developments in an area. This results in time and cost savings by reducing the need to duplicate research and analysis.

FuturePlan can provide insights to the future impact of new developments, allowing authorities to anticipate the need for new homes, offices, transport infrastructure or green spaces. It also shows how this will change the city and what demands will be created by new populations and buildings.

Small businesses will be able to make more informed decisions. For example, where to site a restaurant based on population and current (and future) market saturation.

Citizens will be able to use the tool to gain a better understanding of the cumulative impacts of development on their city and how these might change the communities they live in – for example, where employment opportunities may be opening up in their area.

How can others help to make FuturePlan a success?

We need local planning authorities to agree what is the most important information they should be capturing about proposals and working together to standardise this data so everyone can use it.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is doing great work here through its local digital declaration and local digital fund but more people need to get involved.

At the Catapult, we are keen to work with developers, data companies, computer software designers and entrepreneurs. We want to further develop open and interoperable applications to help digitally transform the planning process and to develop prototypes for FuturePlan to take to market.

We are also looking for proposals for additional products and services that could be made possible as a result of FuturePlan; such as apps and tools that could help small businesses spot opportunities for expansion or help local colleges advise on career opportunities in an area.

What are the next steps?

Check out other concept, prototypes and solutions we have been involved in to digitise and improve planning. And get in touch with us if you have data to share or a good idea for digitally transforming planning.

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