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Government picks 10 councils to test digital planning tools 

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Housing minister Christopher Pincher today (1 June) announced a £1.1 million fund to test the use of digital tools and data standards across 10 local areas.  

The planning white paper Planning for the Future, published last August, proposed reforms to streamline and modernise the planning system.

The pathfinder programme will look at the digital transformation of local plans to increase community involvement and speed up the planning process.

The government said the introduction of a digital system that makes plans map-based and accessible online would enable local people to engage with planning, which in turn would get homes built faster.

The chosen local authorities will now test how existing local plans translate into the new system, moving away from long text documents to an interactive map with accompanying annotation document and the adaptation of existing site allocation policies into the proposed land categorisation format.

The 10 local councils selected for the test are:

  1. Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council
  2. Stratford upon Avon District Council and Warwick District Council
  3. Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council
  4. Dacorum Borough Council
  5. Broxbourne Borough Council
  6. Birmingham City Council
  7. East Suffolk
  8. London Borough Hounslow
  9. Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
  10. Ashford Borough Council 

This, said the government, would enable planners to understand the impact of proposed land designations and associated policy implications on land allocations and inform a wide range of policies across the reform programme.

Community engagement will continue to play a big role in making sure that the right levels of growth are identified to meet the needs of the community. In the new system digital tools will be key to making planning proposals more accessible and interactive, supporting the ambition for more effective community engagement.

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.”

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, added: “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.”

Councillor 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, progressive 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.”

Image credit | Jarrett Kinson-Shutterstock