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20/02/2018

The changing face of planning: Planning ahead

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Technology to tackle infrastructure challenges / Shutterstock_55891834

Innovation is key to any industry, but arguably none more so than planning, as it looks to balance a host of different priorities and overcome obstacles to development, writes Jay Skinner.

A planning bill is in the Scottish Parliament, and further change to the system is anticipated through changes to regulation and policy. In this period of flux the Scottish Young Planners’ Conference 2018 will look towards innovation through technology to tackle challenges such as infrastructure delivery, low public trust in the planning system, and streamlining design and construction.

In 2017 the Scottish Government established the Digital Taskforce as a direct result of the much discussed review of the Scottish planning system. The primary aim of the taskforce is to pioneer the digital transformation of public services through innovative use of technology. Exploring the potential for emerging technologies to impact on planning practice will be a host of expert speakers at this year’s conference, due to take place on Wednesday 14 March at the University of Strathclyde Technology & Innovation Centre, Glasgow. We will ask how the planning system could be transformed for the better by making better use of technological advances, including new approaches to construction and design.

There are several possible areas of application to take note of in the drive for greater adoption of technology in planning: Innovation is not limited to one specific element of planning or particular group of stakeholders, but cuts across the activities and processes with which planning is involved.

One movement that is currently gaining a lot of momentum is ‘Wikihouse’. The concept is unique in that it combines the principals of modular building, statistical analysis and community engagement and buy-in to help provide high quality housing for all.

"Innovation is not limited to one specific element of planning, but cuts across the activities and processes with which planning is involved"

With regards to the practical roll out of information technology within planning services some planning authorities, including Fife Council, have begun to use drones in day to day operations. This technology has been used successfully in planning enforcement when detailing and recording sites, as well as in reviewing potential local plan allocations and key sites such as SSSIs for the sake of development mnagement assessments. The use of drones has allowed local authorities in particular to maximise available resources, to continue providing high quality services following drastic cuts in budget and staff.

One key and perhaps unsurprising outcome from the planning review is that the planning process and decision making needs to be more accessible to the public. Both improved engagement with and support for active place-making by communities is an aspiration of both the public and private sectors. There are several opportunities to harness technology in relation to this, for example through mainstreaming virtual reality project visualisation and revolutionising the presentation of development plans. Meaningful engagement could hold the key to successful development outcomes: Supporting communities on a journey from development inception, planning through to construction and delivery.

The recent launch of the Place Standard Tool app in Scotland has provided a simple tool for people to evaluate how they perceive the quality of their place. The Place Standard Tool signifies a move towards more meaningful engagement, harnessing the role of smartphones to further connect, especially with young people. PAS (formerly Planning Aid Scotland) worked closely with a focus group of young people to support the development and roll out of the app.

Finally, the increasing scope to use virtual reality (VR) in the planning process is another exciting development. From detailed mapping to full design ‘visualisations’, the use of VR can help to bring proposals to life and therefore inform how the public and other stakeholders respond to projects in the pipeline.

In an ever challenging world more and more practitioners are looking towards innovative methods to stay ahead of the curve. What planners are witnessing now is a seismic shift from a time in which technology was once seen as a novelty to being considered an essential tool in supporting the growth and development of the industry. What is guaranteed is that innovation in planning will continue to dominate discussions on how best to adapt to the ever changing built and natural environment.

  • More information about the Scottish Young Planners’ Conference, which takes place on 14 March, can be found here on the RTPI website.

Jay Skinner is a planner at Fife Council and a member of the Scottish Young Planners Network steering group.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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