Birmingham using AI to find land for homes

13 July, 2021
View of the Birmingham city skyline, featuring tall buildings to highlight urban densification (including the construction of new homes)taking place in this local authority.

Birmingham City Council has awarded a contract to Urban Intelligence to undertake a city-wide review of land for homes using artificial intelligence.

Birmingham City Council have contracted Urban Intelligence to review all sites across the city using ground-breaking digital methods to identify land for homes. By using AI, Urban Intelligence is able to assess a greater number of sites at a faster pace than when traditional assessment methods are used. As a result, the Council will have more development sites to choose from, making it easier to fulfil housing targets. These have recently increased due to the government’s adjustment to the housing needs assessment methodology which has boosted targets in the UK’s 20 largest cities by 35%.

Urban Intelligence’s bespoke geospatial analysis software will significantly increase the speed and scope of the council’s review. It will identify and assess every land parcel in the city (around 330,000 sites), 284 times more than the 1,160 assessed by the council in 2017. Moreover, it will reduce the time required to produce a final list of sites from 11 to 3 months. Regaining that time will liberate officers to better respond to the challenges currently faced by the city’s residents and businesses as a result of the pandemic.

Birmingham City Council is also in the process of considering a new development plan for 2022-2042. Council officers are likely to find it challenging to find sufficient space for residential development, given the new housing targets. The examination of the current plan already found that 37,900 of the 89,000 new dwellings cannot be accommodated within the city’s boundaries. It is therefore likely that the Council are will need to test the impact of different policy decisions as they prepare the new development plan. Urban Intelligence’s software can support this process, as it not only assesses the suitability of sites, but also their potential capacity under different density assumptions.

Maria Dunn, Birmingham’s Head of Development Policy, has said the council “are excited to work with Urban Intelligence and leverage the power of technology to leave no stone unturned in our search for new development sites.” Daniel Mohamed, founder and CEO of Urban Intelligence, is aspirational about the project’s potential: “As the largest local authority in Europe, the city will provide a fantastic opportunity to explore the use of geospatial methods for data-driven urban development at significant scale.” The exploration of novel technologies in the planning sector reflects the broader shift towards digitisation announced in the Planning White Paper, released in August 2020.

Urban Intelligence’s technology has already had a huge impact in the London Borough of Hounslow where it has multiplied the number of sites typically assessed 191 times. The team has uncovered 4200 suitable sites, many of which are council-owned and small. These results will help the Borough fulfil the London Plan’s new requirement for it to deliver 2800 homes on sites under 0.25 hectares. This will empower officers in their search for suitable development land and reduce the number of sites they need to consider manually.

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