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How an early prototype of FuturePlan is helping Birmingham

How an early prototype of FuturePlan is helping Birmingham

The early idea for FuturePlan emerged when the Catapult collaborated with Birmingham City Council to explore how major investments in property and transport innovation might generate and sustain value for the city.

The project initially focussed on the arrival of HS2 at Curzon Street Station but quickly broadened to consider a whole range of change happening across the city and wider city region.   

From conversations with council directors, policy managers, developers, transport providers and the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Catapult explored the ‘big picture’ of data collaboration, sharing opportunities and citizen participation. From this we developed a number of innovative ideas, leading to the creation of an ‘opportunity explorer’ tool.

Developing the tool

This prototype was the first version of FuturePlan – a software tool that uses planning data to demonstrate the possibilities created by new developments in cities over a period of time.

By discovering where there are barriers to effective coordination and collaboration (often caused by inefficiencies in the current planning system), we were able to define the priorities for our new tool.

Of all public city services, the planning system still lags behind in terms of digital innovation. Data is held by small groups of people (typically public sector or private planners and the developer). Retrieving information in order to share it, then analysing the findings is a costly and lengthy process.  

There is little interoperability in the current system, and our discussions with Birmingham’s civic leaders showed that there was a clear need for a portal that joined up information on complex projects from all partners, along with associated research, forecasts and data. This can create important visibility for everyone from developers, to SMEs and corporates wanting to bid for work, as well as those planning to invest in the city or citizens wanting to understand more about a project’s impact.

Interactive visualisation

We  also  assessed  the availability  of ‘past’, ‘current’ and  ‘future’ data, and developed  visualisations of specific sites and developments (as well as a city-wide view).  These were made available asan interactive ‘Impact Visualisation Tool’ allowing people to search by location and project to see proposed developments and how they might affect an area.

This overview shows the key impacts that HS2 and Curzon Street Station are likely to have over time in a range of areas including housing, the economy, transport links and infrastructure.

Raj Mack, Head of Business Engagement, Information, Technology & Digital Services at Birmingham City Council says:

“In terms of value, Birmingham City Council has derived multiple benefits from our collaboration with the Catapult and in particular the development of the FuturePlan tool.  The potential benefits of its application are evident from a variety of perspectives – developers, citizens and the Council.

“For us, the ability to bring together and understand the impacts in their entirety rather than a piecemeal approach is where the innovation lies.”

The Catapult is exploring opportunities to work with other local authorities and innovative UK SMEs to develop working FuturePlan prototypes, including in development areas.  

Are you interested in finding out how FuturePlan could help your city?  Are you interested in helping to develop the prototype to take it to market?  Get in touch with us: info@futurecities.catapult.org.uk

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