This morning, we attended Digital London: Making the planning system work for the 21st Century, a panel event hosted by the NLA. There was a lot of talk about innovation, digitisation and streamlining, and we were fascinated to learn about the new technology being developed in the hope of simplifying and opening up the planning system.
We came away with a few thoughts on the talk:
1) How much will these visionary ideas impact on day to day planning?
The idea of building digital cities which can be used to envision local plans and the impact of development is incredible – and in the future can surely be used to target people currently disengaged with planning. However, Peter Eversden, Chairman of the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, prudently observed that, at present, some local authorities cannot afford to update their somewhat basic web systems; the cost of digitally building a local plan and the associated internal training would be prohibitive.
2) How can we use this technology in the immediate, short term?
Laura Masseo, Partner at Farrells, talked about existing technology that is scarcely used but would make public consultation much more interactive, and much simpler. Augmented Reality, for example, is an existing technology, but it is still talked about in hushed, reverent tones, instead of as a practical presentation solution. Though of course technology like this needs plenty of preparation time, an augmented reality app superimposing the proposed building onto a model of the existing site is the easiest way of understanding the scope and impact of a scheme.
3) Is digital planning the solution?
The answer to this seems to be both yes and no. Digital planning will open doors to a much wider range of people, willing to tap on an app but unwilling to google a reference number they’ve spotted on a laminated sign on a lamppost. However, as well as being prohibitively expensive in the short term, taking it too far will serve to alienate people who are quite happy to use the current system, and probably do so quite regularly. The best way to gain feedback is still through conversation – certainly we can use props, but you can never entirely take away the importance of being face-to-face with the people whose support you seek.
We are extremely excited to see this technology develop and grow, and we certainly look forward to making the most of it in consultations and local plans of the future.