Digital Urban Planning: GrowthPlanner

We built GrowthPlanner to show how cities can spot development opportunities quickly and easily; identifying capacity in utility services and anticipating future demand along the way. We want innovative UK businesses to work with us to create more exciting opportunities.

Planning our cities is complex, which is why here at the Connected Places Catapult, we’ve built a new Digital Urban Planning system which we’ve named “GrowthPlanner.”

Current systems can hold back the speed of development, due to problems with accessing comprehensive, up to date information on the built environment.

To address this, we’ve been working with local authorities and utility companies to build an application that overcomes these issues, enabling them to better provide for citizens’ needs.

We’ve developed a prototype tool that centralises information on possible sites for future development along with the utility services needed to supply each one.

Using the tool, innovative businesses, utility companies and urban planners can work together to quickly identify sites for development and future needs for services.

If you’re interested in developing a tool like GrowthPlanner for your city or have another idea that could improve planning, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us here.

We want to work with cities and businesses to bring GrowthPlanner to other parts of the UK. Get in touch with us here.

Q&A: the Evolution of GrowthPlanner

Stefan Webb is the Catapult’s Director of Digitising Planning. Here he explains the reasons for developing GrowthPlanner and how UK businesses and city planners can work together to make it a success.

What is GrowthPlanner? What does it seek to do?

GrowthPlanner aims to make it easier and quicker for planners to choose the most appropriate locations for development sites. It is a working prototype of a digital tool, designed by the Future Cities Catapult which brings together different data about a city and its infrastructure networks.

Homes, offices, schools and shops are not islands. They require supporting infrastructure to function, critical amongst which is electricity, water and wastewater processing. In deciding where to locate new development, planners also have to take into account additional factors such as flooding risks, conservation status, listed buildings and other considerations.

GrowthPlanner works by using data from utility companies to present a heatmap of where there is more or less spare capacity and combines that with information from planning authorities about the type of development proposed and its location, size and delivery date.

This means that when cities want to invest in new developments, planners can see more easily whether there is sufficient infrastructure to support the needs of the new populations that they will bring.

What is the challenge that GrowthPlanner will address?

The current tools and processes used for planning are cumbersome and out of date. Making decisions is a time consuming, costly and error strewn process, with the parties involved shuttling information back and forth and having to make planning requests for sites which take months to be processed. At the moment there is no single repository for information, and no convenient or timely way to gain an overview of a site.

This is not just an issue for planners. Utility companies also have an unclear picture of where new development is likely to occur and whether it will be office, residential or industrial, and consequently cannot plan their networks to meet the demands of new occupiers

By creating a tool to centralise information and modernise the process, GrowthPlanner will aggregate all the information on infrastructure capacity, conservation requirements or other restrictions on each site. It means developers can quickly see and invest in a development without having to submit planning requests and utility companies will also be able to plan more efficiently.

What will be the main benefits of GrowthPlanner?

There are many benefits to creating a tool which gives faster and more accurate information about potential development locations. These include:

  • Giving planners a better understanding of where to prioritise future development on the basis of spare capacity, with always up-to-date information
  • Reducing the amount of money local authorities and developers need to spend on consultants
  • Helping utility companies to predict and plan their investments to ensure there is sufficient electricity water and wastewater capacity to meet the need of new populations, resulting in more efficient use of budgets and better siting of new substations, water pumping stations and wastewater treatment works
  • Enabling planners and utilities to collaborate and coordinate plans and investments effectively to deliver infrastructure ‘just in time’ to support new homes and development
  • Providing a basis for developers, planners and utilities to more accurately negotiate Section 106 agreements, the legally required contributions which mitigate the effects of a new development on an area.
How can you help to make GrowthPlanner a success?

We need councils, utility companies and local planning authorities to standardise and share their data, and to think digitally. We have already worked with Belfast, and Manchester and we would welcome interest from other authorities who would like to find out how GrowthPlanner could work for them.

We are keen to work with developers, data companies, computer software designers and entrepreneurs to further develop open and interoperable applications to help digitally transform the planning process and to develop the GrowthPlanner prototype and take it to market.

If you are interested in using or developing GrowthPlanner or digital planning innovations, get in touch with us here.