Planning for the Future – Urban Intelligence Response

1 November, 2020

Autumn’s consultation for the Planning White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ has now been and gone, and we were keen to issue our response.

MHCLG is currently reviewing responses to the consultation, but in the meantime we have summarised our response to digital elements of the consultation below.

Simplification of Local Plans

We welcome the suggestions within the White Paper regarding the simplification of local plans. However we are conscious that broad brush approaches may have unintended consequences, and therefore are keen to understand how these areas will be determined. A fine balance will have to be drawn between utilising local knowledge and creating a nationally consistent approach. We believe that the increased use of data driven insight can aid in creating this approach, through creating objective assessments and deeply interactive evidence bases to guide designations.

We also welcome national development management policies. Avoiding repetition of policies across all local plans, and the associated work with developing these policies, does not make for an efficient process. We believe that making these policies ‘generic’ at a national level will remove steps from the local plan making process, and therefore enable authorities to reduce the time taken to produce a plan.

Accessible, web based plans

We welcome the proposal to make plans fully web-based rather than document-based. Having access to reusable standardised geospatial information regarding sites and areas will enable us to quickly identify opportunities for our clients, including asset managers, developers or the public sector. We also welcome the long-term aim of making the data used for Local Plans open and accessible and reusable in a machine-readable format, as this would allow us to strengthen our data-driven approach by incorporating more data points into our software and algorithms, leading to greater detailed analysis of sites. However, as this is referred to as a “long-term aim”, we wonder what incentives will be given to Local Authorities to provide this data from the outset? 

We strongly agree with using digital technology to create a more streamlined planning process, as the slow-moving, inefficient and paper-based planning system was the reason behind the founding of Urban Intelligence in 2014.

Additionally, we strongly believe that making a local plan web based will increase accessibility, and therefore engagement with the planning system. PDF documents hundreds of pages long are an undeniable barrier to engagement. Planning is inherently spatial, and presenting proposals in this way, in a digital medium that is widely understood is a welcome step towards wider engagement.

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