In 2022, we saw lots of movement in digital planning. So we wanted to ask what’s likely to happen in 2023. Here are some of the ideas the team at PlaceChangers came up with.
Laying the foundation for digital planning
More linked data from government agencies
What’s digital planning or proptech, I hear you ask? The sector is still evolving, and there are many different views on what it means. If you look at the UK government documents, proptech is now the preferred term. Now shelved, the Planning for the Future whitepaper called for more mapped formats for planning documents. Part of this is the realisation that planning data is still too ‘messy’ to work with. In this aspect, the government has made significant progress by providing a new authoritative planning data resource, the planning data platform. This website establishes the foundation for efficiently reusing constraint data in other interactive applications.
The link to this is here: https://www.planning.data.gov.uk
Small area data enables targeted planning for people and places
The release of the 2021 census is now coming thick and fast. One of the changes over previous years is about the geospatial granularity of the results released. For example, housing data has been released to the output area, the smallest geographic unit within the census. Such specific datasets will help planning become more targeted and sensitive to issues and opportunities. Of course, it also helps that ONS has released interactive maps of these results to make the data much easier to explore and use.
The link to census maps is here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/maps/
Interactive public consultations
New consultation practices
Catapulted by the pandemic, we have seen a rise in online consultations. Planners are now more aware of the benefits of online consultations, and they are now the default consultation method. Residents increasingly expect every project to have a web presence. While government agencies have adopted dedicated consultation solutions, planning consultancies and their clients are also starting to see the benefits of integrated communication, visual reporting, and mapping capabilities will be expected from clients. While online methods will continue to grow, we will see the return of face-to-face engagement activities alongside online consultations.
Uses of 3D model data beyond the design process
2022 also saw growth in the support for open-building information formats, such as IFC. BIM-based design processes are a methodology to aid collaboration within the design team. Supported by open formats and display of designs in web browsers without needing specialist software will open new doors for interactivity. Here at PlaceChangers, this has led to our industry-leading work spearheading 3D building models in interactive consultations.
See PlaceChangers 3D consultation example: 3D proposal maps drive planning consultation for North Tyneside Council
More sophisticated planning organisations and clients
Adoption of digital planning will enable organisations to work faster
With the greater adoption of PropTech in the government sector, we will also see the more sophisticated understanding of ‘proptech’ by planning consultancies.
We will start seeing a trend towards adopting analytics and interactive tools that go beyond a standard GIS. This will help to enable the capacity of those organisations for work that’s often not done due to budget limitations. However, more work is needed by planning consultancies and project owners to develop strategies and establish the cost-benefit of adopting digital planning tools.
Cybersecurity is a must not a nice to have
Over the course of 2022, the UK (and the world) saw a rise in the number, sophistication and severity of cyber attacks. Sensitive data is valuable, and as planning becomes increasingly data-driven, so too will the attractiveness of digital planning platforms to attackers. Having cyber protection in place will be vital to PropTech firms creating digital solutions for planning, as well as strict and enforced policies on data retention and destruction. Clients and Citizens will be looking to organisations collecting their data for assurances around privacy and security of their information.
Clients take ownership of design data
When it comes to design development, traditionally, design documentation has been handed over on PDFs, drawings, and so on. More tenders will state specifications on how project outcomes are handed over in interactive formats. This may include specifications for delivering GIS-mapped data layers. The most recent tender for Homes England framework contracts also expects suppliers to work in a 3D design process, which may involve the capability to provide 3D modelling in BIM files. The trend toward the adoption of BIM-based authoring will continue.
Managing risks through evidence-based planning
It is often said that planning is all about evidence, but not all ‘evidence’ is created equal. In 2023, based on trends around more linked data, accessible by software via programmatic interfaces, we will see more ‘real-time’ or self-updating evidence bases. For this to work, we’ll also see more dedicated tools to enable place analysis based on KPIs relevant to urban planning or urban design. Some talk about the ‘digital twin’, by adding highly detailed 3D urban visualisations. In 2022, companies will continue to invest in data analytics capabilities to manage project risk, especially at the project inception stage.
Health in town planning
Greater availability of evidence in linked and mapped formats can help answer more of the long-standing nitty gritty questions, which often need attention due to a lack of money or time in a project. One of them is the role of health impacts. Health and well-being are critical to the long-term success of a community. Traditionally, health impact has been the purview of academic studies, who had time to do large-scale correlation studies, e.g. green space and morbidity. In 2023, we will see more services focus on health impacts. The uptake of health impact assessments drives this as a validation requirement by councils.
Tackling climate change and net zero
Net zero in housing is an essential focus in 2023 to tackle the retrofit of neighbourhoods and deliver energy-efficient new builds. Greater availability of evidence on home energy efficiency in mapped and easy-to-access formats will also drive a revolution in empowering retrofit strategies, which are often complex due to the complex link between land ownership and building data at the neighbourhood or city scale. Easy-to-access analytics provide estate- or neighbourhood-level insights to reduce project risk.
Artificial intelligence and planning
In 2022 we saw an explosion of new activity centred on the use of machine learning (also often referred to as ‘artificial intelligence’). One of the most stunning developments is a large language model called ChatGPT. OpenAI’s free-to-use chat system can answer questions on a wide range of topics, even on planning-specific issues. The power of those systems is still to be understood. In 2023, we see more experiments and exploration of how systems like ChatGTP help. In online planning consultations, for example, auto-summarisation of consultation feedback would be a powerful development to look out for.
Hello to 2023
These are a few of the observations we see for 2023. Will 2023 be the year where we connect back to the origins of planning as a source for strategic visions how places change for the better? In the constant epp and flow of planning news, be inspired and look out for more news coming in 2023.
Have we missed anything burning that you feel should be added? Email us at [email protected] - we look forward to hearing from you.
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