April’s PlanTech Show & Tell Breakfast: A debrief

In April, we held the first in a series of Show & Tell breakfast sessions in the run-up to PlanTech Week later this year. During the event, we heard from four speakers; Emma Parnell from We are Snook, the GLA’s Peter Kemp, Jack Ricketts from Unboxed, and mySociety’s Mike Thompson. Find out more about the insights shared on the day in our blog round-up.

The Connected Places Catapult accelerates smarter living and travelling in and between the places of tomorrow. We operate at the intersection between public and private sectors and between local government and transport authorities. Bringing the disparate parts of the market together to help innovators navigate the complexity of doing business, it creates new commercial opportunities and improves productivity, socio-economic and environmental benefits for places. One area of interest for us is Innovation in Planning.

The Catapult’s Digital Planning and Standards Department has spent the better part of the last three years developing and convening the world of PlanTech and, as a result, we are seeing the rapid growth of innovation through examples in urban planning and the built environment.

PlanTech has been gaining momentum and there are many projects that are addressing different parts of the challenge. To support and accelerate the transformation and innovation in planning process, Connected Places Catapult is hosting a series of breakfast Show & Tells. These provide PlanTech projects with an opportunity to share lessons learnt with the wider community. We are keen to establish an open and honest dialogue around barriers to progress and how to overcome them through shared learning and joined up thinking.

Coffee, pastries and PlanTech

We hosted the first of these PlanTech Breakfast Show & Tells at our London office on 9 April. During the morning, almost 60 attendees, with some joining us remotely from across the globe, heard about four ongoing, high-level PlanTech projects.

The speakers and the agenda on the day included:

  • Emma Parnell from We are Snook shared the work they have been doing with Hackney Council to build a digital service for planning applications.
  • Jack Ricketts from the London Borough of Southwark shared how they working to create more efficient back office case management systems.
  • Peter Kemp from the Great London Authority shared its ambition to live stream development information and moving towards automation that puts applicants in control of submitting and amending data.
  • Mike Thompson from mySociety showcased the work that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) is doing to make data stored in their register to be accessible and shareable.

We’ve recently mapped these projects onto our vision for the 21st-century planning system.

Future of Planning; Planning Innovation; Urban Design

To view the above image in full, please click here.

You can watch a video of the morning’s presentations here.

After the morning was over, we put a couple of questions to the presenters to get a better idea about their projects both as they stand now and how they are planned to evolve in the future. You can read their thoughts here:

QUESTION ONE: What planning system challenges does your project address?

Emma Parnell: I think the biggest barriers to innovation in planning are being tackled by all of our projects. And that’s a lack of open data and systems that talk to each other.

Submit my Planning Application is an input point to the system but things won’t change without the work Open Systems Lab, mySociety, the GLA and Southwark/Unboxed are doing because our service is just one part of a wider system. I think the innovation is here, in collaboration.

I’d like us, as a collective, to get to the point where we have scalable technology that allows towns and cities to be planned and designed based on real-time evidence.

Peter Kemp: Getting people to thinking about the art of the possible, beyond statutory control is the need of the hour. We are working on a database to receive automatic data extracts from boroughs. We will then make efforts to hold this planning application data in a format that we can make accessible to Londoners.

Jack Ricketts: The desire and acknowledgement, by some, of the need for change, is there. Building PlanTech services and tools, whatever they may be, is not the challenge. By using agile principles and service design standards, innovation can be quickly realised. The real challenge to innovation is changing the culture and mindset of practitioners. No surprise as we are essentially disrupting a system that was established over seven decades ago in 1947.

Reimagining the management of planning applications by planning authorities sits in the middle of a process which encompasses the public, developers and all levels of government. Get this right and we will facilitate greater collaboration and efficiencies across the planning and development sectors.

Mike Thompson: Planning application data can tell us a lot about the housing and construction markets that, but there’s a lack of consistent, available data about planned developments and their locations. We’re trying to define a common level of planning application data that all local planning authorities can provide to help companies, citizens and government to get the insights they need.

QUESTION TWO: What is your next PlanTech milestone?

EP: We don’t have any set dates yet but we are currently scoping a phase of work with Hackney Council that will culminate in a public beta release of Submit my Planning Application for householder works. I expect we’ll be working towards a release sometime in the summer.

PK: We are looking forward to soft launching our database to see if it works.

JR: The next milestone to reach is the opening up of data to unlock land value and development viability.

Southwark commissioned a discovery which finished in December 2018 and suggested that it would be possible to reduce the cost of producing and evaluating developer’s viability assessments. Whilst we aren’t suggesting that we can simplify inherently complicated assessments, we do think that we can make significant improvements to their creation, data collection and, ultimately, the availability of evidence to local authorities so they can secure more affordable homes.

It is hoped that, together with Connected Places Catapult, Southwark can fund the alpha and beta phases with sources such it’s S106 admin fee.

MT: We’re currently working through the technical practicalities for our draft data pattern to understand where the data we’re asking for will come from and the technical options for how planning authorities could provide it.

If you’d like to comment on anything you’ve read in this blog post, join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PlanTech.

The morning’s event was the first of what will be a number of opportunities to share what is happening in the world of PlanTech.