In an age of rapid urban growth and expansion, planning is crucial to a city’s ability to be competitive whilst supporting the well-being of its citizens. Poor planning is not only costly and time consuming, it can result in chronic stresses that weaken a city, such as high unemployment and a lack of essential services, while worsening events like natural disasters.
Over the past decade, digital technologies have transformed the way that people live, work and play – and yet, over the same period, the planning system has remained relatively unchanged. Today, it is as if planners are using 19th century governance and 20th century tools to tackle 21st century problems.
The Future of Planning programme has been exploring how planning could evolve over the coming years through the application of new practices and digital tools. It imagines a system of the future that is more user-friendly, more responsive to change, more informed by evidence and more centred around the future needs and ideas of citizens.
Digitising this Planning System
In order to assist the digital transformation of the planning industry, this project focuses on specific areas within the planning system that are known to be problematic. These areas have the most uncertainty, time delays and lack of transparency, impacting on the day to day of local planning authorities, developers and the wider public. Each focus area will be researched in detail to allow us to develop ideas for digital solutions that will illustrate and quantify the benefits of a more data-driven and digitally enabled planning system. In addition to this, each policy area will be accompanied by a high-level cost impact assessment and data requirement standard.
Digital Transformation Road-Map
We are developing a long-term road-map for changes to planning system, broken down into principles, actors, systems, risks, opportunities and other factors. By breaking down the digital transformation of the planning system into its component parts, understanding opportunities, legacy actors and inter-dependencies, Future Cities Catapult, Government and the market can have a better understanding of priorities, potential unintended consequences and likely overall costs.
This project has been delivered through a series of sprints.
The road-map is an essential part of the Future of Planning programme. Further angles to study allow the possibility to use parts of the road-map for influencing policy / HMG, the balance of internal and external resources and the proposed addition of a thorough analysis of the market situation and potential companies in the AUS sector. Collaboration with other initiatives, especially the Digital Built Britain, are an essential part of the road-map.
The Planning System Today
The Design Sprint is a method to develop and consolidate ideas to combine innovation, behavioural science, design thinking and business strategy. The process, conducted over the course of a week, gave us the opportunity to explore the planning journey in depth and in the context of those who use the planning process, identify pain points and improvement opportunities. It was also an opportunity for experts across the planning world, from different local authorities to join forces to identify where challenges and opportunities overlapped and to use their shared knowledge and expertise to build and test functional prototypes in five days.
Sprint 1 – The planning application process
The first area of focus was the planning application service, which is run by Local Planning Authorities who provide permission for developers to build. The service is complicated, involving multiple types of payments, transfer of complex information between applicants, local planning authorities and the public, regulatory time-frames for individual stages, revisions to proposals, community consultation, planning committee meetings and more. This end-to-end service was mapped out and formed the basis of a 5-day sprint looking to identify the key ‘pain points’ from which the team would develop solutions for.
Sprint 2 – Plan Monitoring
The area of focus for this Sprint was the plan monitoring process. This is the process undertaken by Local Planning Authorities to monitor the delivery of Local Plans. Whilst different aspects of an area are monitored subject to the policies in the Local Plan, we decided to focus specifically on housing delivery. This is common to all plans, one of the biggest priorities for government and the evidence against which local housing targets are compared to.
Though monitoring housing delivery may sound like a relatively straightforward task, the lack of reliable data makes it complex, haphazard and resource intensive. It requires cross-departmental information sharing and a range of informal forms of data collection. The results are unreliable, out-dated and often have a significant margin of error. The informality in the methods for how housing delivery is identified means there is no standard user journey. However, we identified a high-level journey which we used as the basis of our work.
We will be organising a third project sprint in May 2018 which will be followed by our second plan tech week exhibition in June. For more information please contact Euan Mills or Stefan Webb and watch this space.