Part of the challenge of digitally transforming the planning system is that it requires two disparate and different groups of people to come together. The built environment profession on one side (architects, planners, engineers, etc) and digital professionals (service designers, full-stack developers, UI/UX professionals, etc) on the other. The distance between these groups can be measured both physically (the distance across a local authority office) and culturally (the attire is the most obvious one). It can also be measured by the software of choice; Microsoft Office v Github and Stack Overflow. These distances can lead to things falling down cracks. In the same way that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?; if data is released on GitHub, does any planner know it exists?
The beginnings of more accessible local plans
Building on work we did for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) nearly three years ago, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) digital land team have begun thinking about how to use the Secretary of State’s power in the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 to mandate data standards for development plan documents. One of the areas they have prioritised is making local plans more accessible (a worthy target as the society for innovation, technology and modernisation (SOCITM) has previously found that local plan documents are not very accessible at all). The digital and planning teams at MHCLG have combined to do sterling work in getting nearly all local plans and associated housing targets into a consistent digital format. However, it’s unlikely that many people know it exists, and even if they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will understand how different authorities compare.
That’s why we’ve created a prototype of an online map detailing the age of plans across England and the associated housing targets. As a prototype, there are of course areas for improvement or the addition of new features. One feature in development will see the online map update automatically. As well as hearing what additional features could be added (eg visualising the housing target as a proportion of existing homes), we’re also keen to understand what additional planning data MHCLG should publish in a consistent format (perhaps a more granular breakdown of the stage each plan is at?). Tell us what you think on the PlanTech Slack workspace, contribute to the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PlanTech or share your thoughts with us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alongside our prototype map is an accompanying technical blog that explains how our new online map can be utilised by the end-user. Explore the map and read the blog in full by clicking the button below.