May’s PlanTech Show & Tell Breakfast: A Debrief

The Digital Planning and Standards team at Connected Places Catapult has spent the better part of the last three years developing and convening a community around the world of PlanTech. To support and accelerate the digital transformation of planning, we’re organising and hosting a series of ‘Show & Tell’ breakfasts. These gatherings of partners, peers and leaders of our sector showcase projects currently using technology to enable tweaks and efficiencies in the planning system.

Following the successful, inaugural PlanTech Show & Tell in April – when we welcomed colleagues from We are Snook, the GLA, Unboxed and mySociety – we hosted a second breakfast at our London office on 21 May. Over the course of the morning some 80 attendees, a number joining remotely from across the globe heard about four ongoing PlanTech projects. Here’s a rundown of the speakers and some detail about the projects they are currently working on.

Future Gov’s Viability Assessment Checker

Mike Begg and Matt Skinner from FutureGov presented the work they have been doing with London Borough of Southwark on digitising its planning assessment viability tool to maximise the delivery of affordable homes. The project has so far involved mapping and visualising planning data and user research with a focus on the assessment of viability. The key findings highlight that these calculations are primarily used as a negotiation tool rather than a true valuation of scheme viability. They have also uncovered a power imbalance between councils and developers. This is because viability assessments are not standardised. This means there is an opportunity to improve the process, perhaps by making planning data machine readable. FutureGov has developed a Viability Assessment Checker to enable this. The next step is to build, test and iterate prototypes of this checker.

The GLA’s London Infrastructure Mapping Application 3.0

The Greater London Authority’s Molly Strauss and Ananya Jaidev presented the third incarnation of the London Infrastructure Mapping Application (IMA). This online tool was first developed by the GLA in 2015. Version 3.0 launched just a week before May’s PlanTech Show & Tell, making our audience some of the first in the country to see the very latest iteration. The IMA’s main purpose is to help infrastructure providers identify and coordinate locations for proposed joint works. It can also help understand where new developments are likely to occur. There are two versions of the tool – public (industry) and private (GLA, LA, and providers). New features of IMA 3.0 include matching one provider’s plan to dig up a road with another provider’s plans. A future update of IMA will incorporate planning for growth.

Getting more out of data with MHCLG

Speaker Paul Downey shared the work Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) are doing to make better data available to diversify the housing market. As a central body, they are working on ways to get more out of data. Often this data serves one purpose, but it can actually be used to inform multiple projects. MHCLG is currently focused on local plans, the evidence base for which is great but fragmented because data is poorly collected and maintained. Paul’s team is working towards providing a summary of all local plans and their status (ie, adopted, submitted, published, emerging etc.) with key data such as housing numbers while ensuring they are made available online to wider audiences.

PlanX on target to simplify navigation of the planning system

Open Systems Lab’s Cleo Valentine brought the presentations to a close by showcasing the PlanX project. PlanX was developed to address the difficulty often experienced when navigating the planning system. Incredibly, this remains to be a paper-based system but with much of the navigation now being done on computers (eg, PDF documents), there is an obvious disconnect in between the two methods. PlanX aims at moving the system from documents to data. It uses geospatial data to answer questions related to a site and only asks relevant questions. It will provide users with an application summary and give an informed approach to whether a planning application is likely to receive approval or not. Open Systems Lab are close to launching PlanX in beta with London Borough of Southwark and are looking to cooperate with other local authorities.

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

Thank you to all the speakers who presented at the event and we hope everyone who attended, both in the room and across the miles, got as much out of it as we did and got an insight in the world of Digital Planning.