Report calls for easier data access to drive 'digitisation of planning'

The government should explore making planning application data more easily accessible in order to 'unleash economic growth' and help councils better inform their local planning strategies, according a report on the role of data in aiding better planning and design.

Public realm: reports says data can help make better places
Public realm: reports says data can help make better places
The report, Designing with data: Shaping our future cities by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and consultancy ARUP says that data can offer an insight into people’s needs and has the potential to transform the way architects and planners design towns and cities.

It says that, alongside planning applications, data helpful to planners and designers is available from an increasingly wide range of sources.

It says: "Mobile phones track our movements through the city. Parking sensors, congestion charge zones, Oyster cards: all yield valuable data about how and when people are moving around the city. Social media records our thoughts and feelings about places and experiences ... We can consult with more people in more ways.

"This creates the opportunity for designers and planners to create places that are better attuned to the people who use them".

But the report says that little has been done to explore the merits of using data and new technology for planning and design processes.

To remedy this, the report recommends that government "should model and explore the potential benefits of a digital planning process".

"Government should scope how it can standardise the digitisation of all information submitted for planning, and of standardising design data collection across local authorities. This public data should be open to unleash economic growth; and local authorities should be encouraged to use open data to inform local planning strategies", it says.

The report also recommends that a joint government, industry and academic working group should be established to "oversee the digitisation of planning".

"The group should include built environment professionals and academics and should be facilitated by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Cabinet Office, along with organisations such as the Open Data Institute and the Future Cities Catapult".

There should also be better coordination between government departments to prevent data duplication and "help identify gaps in data provision to enable the government to develop a more holistic framework for data capture and analysis", the report says.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: "The UK currently scores top for open data according to the Open Knowledge Foundation. Lots of the data is available and already being collected, so why aren't more architects taking advantage?

"We need the government to ensure this data is harnessed by local authorities and made available for architects, developers, residents groups, charities, and business so they can make the best use of it.  

"This report must signal an end to clunky planning application websites with their overly long reference numbers and multitude of pointless scanned documents, data collection needs to be standardised across the country, easily accessible and open to everyone".

Designing with data: Shaping our future cities can be read here.

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