10 UK local authorities chosen for £1m digital planning tools pilot

by Liam Turner
A business person leaning over a desk using their digital tablet

The UK government has announced a £1.1m fund that will be put toward testing the use of digital planning tools and data standards across 10 local areas.

10 councils including the London Borough of Hounslow, Plymouth City Council, and Newcastle City Council have been selected to test how existing local plans will translate into the new system.

The ‘pathfinder’ programme will look to introduce a new interactive digital system for local plans, making them map-based and accessible online.

The move aims to encourage local communities to engage with planning in their area, speeding up the planning process.

The pilot programme comes as part of the planning reforms proposed by the government last August, which altogether aim to streamline and modernise the planning process.

‘Technology and transparency’

Commenting on the programme, UK Housing minister Christopher Pincher said: “We are moving away from notices on lamp posts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system – placing planning at the fingertips of people.

“Today’s announcement will ensure the planning process will be brought into the digital age. Communities will be reconnected to a planning process that is supposed to serve them, with residents more engaged over what happens in their areas.

“While the current system excludes residents, who do not have the time to contribute to the lengthy and complex planning process, local democracy and accountability will now be enhanced by technology and transparency.”

10 councils have been selected to test how existing local plans will translate into the new system, including moving long text documents into an interactive map with accompanying annotation document.

The councils will also adapt existing site-allocation policies into the new land categorisation format, which categorises land into ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ or ‘protection’ areas.

The government says the test will allow planners to understand the impact of the proposed new system and inform policies across the planning reform programme.

The 10 councils selected by the government to be part of the pilot programme are:

  • Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council
  • Stratford upon Avon District Council and Warwick District Council
  • Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council, and West Devon Borough Council
  • Dacorum Borough Council
  • Broxbourne Borough Council
  • Birmingham City Council
  • East Suffolk Council
  • London Borough Hounslow
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
  • Ashford Borough Council

James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils want communities to be able to shape and define the area they live in, and support measures to enhance public participation in the planning process through a more digital service.

“This will help to make the planning system more accessible and efficient, and we look forward to working with government to ensure that all residents can engage in the planning process.”

David Ritchie, cabinet member for Planning and Coastal Management at East Suffolk Council, said: “East Suffolk Council is extremely pleased to be selected as one of 10 local authorities to test how existing local plans can adapt to a new approach.

“We welcome this opportunity to engage directly with MHCLG and other local authorities to assist in informing and shaping a more digitised and interactive local plan process.

“We hope that this will not only increase community participation but will also speed up the planning process.”

Image: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock


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