Location intelligence: Geospatial technology’s vital role in the UK’s housing crisis

This is a guest blogpost by Stuart Bonthrone, Chief Executive, Esri UK.

The UK’s housing crisis has reached a crunch point over recent years – and it’s now estimated that a massive 345,000 new homes are needed in England each year to address the backlog and fulfil new need.

This problem has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, with the ‘Stay Home’ requirement leading to many people being stuck in housing with limited space to work and store supplies. Many private renters also live in shared spaces, reducing their privacy and making it challenging to self-isolate or work from home.

The scale of the problem is massive – and despite good intentions from those at both a central and local Government level, the slow progress made over recent years makes it clear that we need improved technology and tools to model a new way forward.

Thankfully, the government has recognised that a new approach is needed, and that location intelligence can hold the key. In fact, the recently published UK Geospatial Strategy states that “Innovation in property-related technology … is transforming how developers find land and evaluate building potential, how local authorities and residents approach planning, and how homes are bought, sold or rented”.

Here are three key areas where location intelligence is transforming the way new housing is delivered:

Mapping local infrastructure  

It’s not just about scarcity of land, but about the infrastructure needed to support new developments. To evaluate development potential, multiple layers of data need to be evaluated at once – from utility services and public transport, to local wildlife awareness, noise and pollution levels.

Location intelligence enables this multi-layered approach. A great example of this approach being used is GreenSquare, which manages 10,000 properties for social and affordable rent. Using location intelligence, GreenSquare revealed several new sites with the potential value of approximately £2m. On top of this, the time spent on feasibility studies was reduced from 10 days to just two.

Identifying the right schemes and projects to meet local needs

Effectively meeting housing demand requires rapid evaluation of potential new schemes and projects to select the options that will maximise usage of existing land and deliver the most appropriate new developments. All of this needs to be assessed in the context of the impact of additional housing on existing communities, services and the environment.

Location Intelligence technology brings together geographic and demographic data with local planning policies and rules to create visualisations, analysis and financial reports that enable rapid evaluation and comparison of proposed schemes without costly and time-consuming traditional processes. The technology also makes it possible to determine the optimal layout and density for a development to meet local needs cost effectively. Where this would have traditionally taken months, location intelligence technology means it can now be done in days, or even hours.

Assessing housing capacity  

It’s clear that we need a more creative approach to the housing crisis, instead of just relentlessly searching for new land to be built upon.

3D visualisations can help local authorities to look through a different lens when it comes to assessing housing capacity and identifying new areas for development. For instance, property consultancy Knight Frank used 3D visualisations to determine where new homes could best be built across London Boroughs. In the City of Westminster alone, the analysis uncovered 13.5 million square feet of unused space.

Whether it’s locating suitable land, identifying the most cost-effective way to meet local needs, or thinking creatively to explore new possibilities, it is clear that location intelligence has a significant role to play.

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