Explore the best way to digitize the planning process

Esri UK recently announced the winners of a competition to find local planning authorities with innovative ideas on how best to use geospatial technology to help digitize the planning process

Attracting nearly 50 applications, the three winning councils were Nottingham, Dacorum Borough Council and South Ayrshire, who will work with Esri UK to bring their pilots to fruition, benefiting from free advice and access to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software from the society.

Using GIS to digitize the planning process

The competition revealed several common planning challenges faced by local authorities and addressed by the pilots, including improving community engagement, how to maximize the use of 3D visualizations and how to manage contributions more effectively. developers. Esri UK is also creating a Customer Advisory Board to help develop the use of GIS best practices in planning.

“As the government seeks to reform the planning system with increased use of digital technologies, we wanted to find innovative solutions to planning challenges and work with authorities to bring them to life,” said Stephen Croney, Head of Sector land, property and planning at Esri UK.

“By combining each council’s domain expertise with our team of geospatial experts, the pilot projects will explore effective new approaches to problems, all designed to help make the planning process easier for everyone.

Nottingham City Council’s project will look at how geospatial technology can help increase the use of 3D visualizations in planning, both internally and with the public. Dacorum Borough Council’s pilot project will use GIS systems to better manage the use and reporting of developer contributions secured by planning bonds, while South Ayrshire Council’s aim is to create a platform for community consultation innovative with interactive methods of engagement to improve community participation in local development plans. .

“Geospatial technologies can help shape the future of the planning process by providing significant time and cost savings,” Croney said.

“Spatial data provides the common language for joining different data and making it meaningful. Helping to understand the spatial nature of our environment so we can better determine its future means more sustainable communities are created and also contributes to the Leveling Up program.

The Customer Advisory Council will provide a forum for local planning authorities to discuss best practices and share common issues and goals.

“It became clear that finding new ways to apply GIS in planning opened the minds of the boards entering the competition to what problems could be solved,” Croney said.

“The advisory board will help planning teams learn from each other, better utilize their investment in GIS, and shape the future of digital transformation within planning.”

Geospatial technology can help digitize the planning process

Technology and geospatial data play an important role in helping to digitize the planning process, as outlined in the white paper Planning for the Future, published by the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2020. The use of mapping and associated analytical tools was also one of the recommendations of the report A Digital Future for Planning: Spatial Planning Reimagined, published in February by the independent Digital Task Force for Planning.

Selected from nearly 50 entries, the winning entries are:

Dacorum City Council

Dacorum City Council wants to translate existing texts and spreadsheets using digital mapping to better manage and communicate infrastructure and developer contributions, secured by planning obligations.

“The goal is to use digital mapping not only to aid in decision-making around planning new infrastructure and make the whole process more transparent, but also to support community engagement,” the councilor said. Alan Anderson, portfolio holder, planning and infrastructure at Dacorum. Borough Council.

“The outputs from our current system are text and spreadsheet based – we believe that providing this information spatially will provide a powerful asset that can be used by council officers and others for planning, decision-making and monitoring, and also by the public to improve understanding and engagement in infrastructure financing and planning The pilot project will save time and money through the implementation of more automated processes, while freeing up agent resources/capacity to deal with other complex issues.

A lack of understanding of infrastructure requirements, including costs and delivery times, is often a reason why local plans fail independent review, forcing authorities to start over with a new plan. Understanding infrastructure is a big deal for local plans when reviewing. National policy and guidelines have set the bar higher than ever in terms of the level of evidence and knowledge required.

Nottingham City Council

Nottingham City Council’s proposal will explore how geospatial technology can help increase the use of 3D visualizations in the planning environment, internally and with the public.

Like many councils, the team already has 3D model evaluation built into its process, where developer models are inserted into 3D software for visual evaluation. The objective of the pilot project is to examine how this can be done in a GIS environment, which would add the benefit of being able to perform a holistic assessment of other available data, including local plan information such as disaster risk. flooding, allotment sites, listed buildings etc, in the same place.

“If assessments are conducted in a GIS environment, planning teams will be able to conduct an assessment of the various stresses on a site, alongside a visual assessment of the site’s impact. This will enable better and faster business decisions and will go a long way towards modernizing planning processes in line with the government’s white paper,” explained Mick Dunn, GIS Service Manager, Nottingham City Council.

“The GIS will also bring other functionality to the process, from in-depth flood analysis to view analysis, which we would like to be able to share easily with interested parties, from view images and flyovers to an online version of the We believe this could be taken even further, perhaps being able to provide VR (virtual reality) consultation at venues.

“For example, a QR code on a planning notification near the proposed site, which links to a VR experience on your mobile phone. Public expectations are increasing in line with improvements in technology.

South Ayrshire Council

The South Ayrshire Council project will examine how an innovative community consultation platform with interactive methods of engagement can help to further improve community involvement in local development plans – the proposed South Ayrshire LDP2 first.

The collaboration will involve new mapping and analysis techniques to engage more broadly with stakeholders, on their vision of how communities will grow and develop in South Ayrshire in the future.

“The aim is to create space to keep our community engaged and informed to strengthen our relationships with our stakeholders to achieve better planning results,” said Gordon Wilson, Planning Technician at South Ayrshire Council.

“Effective public engagement can lead to better plans, better decisions, and more satisfying outcomes, and it can also help avoid delays in the planning process. Our vision is to build on the work already done by South Ayrshire to create its LDP2, developing new apps and information to create a Local Plan community engagement and consultation hub, which will be more accessible, as the majority of people are now online.

“Digital engagement will reach more people and provide the opportunity to hear diverse voices. Reaching more people leads to greater participation and having more data creates more knowledge. A huge benefit will be that the community will be able to participate in anytime, anywhere.

Stephen Croney

Planning process

Head of land, real estate and development sector

Esri France

Tel: +44 (0)1296 745 555


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Louisa R. Loomis