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Planning system to get digital overhaul

Government proposal on reform of the planning system sets out plans for modernising the planning process though use of data, interactive online systems and collaboration with the property technology sector

The government is planning a reform of the planning system in England, which includes a digital overhaul and an open data approach.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published a proposal on the reforms, which aims to move the planning system “into the 21st century” and away from “notices on lampposts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system – placing planning at the fingertips of people”.

The proposal said current planning systems were reliant on legacy software, and that the user experience “discourages engagement” with “almost no use of interactive digitals services and tools”.

Instead, the government wants a planning system that focuses on an open data approach, and “unlocks the data needed by property developers and the emerging property technology [proptech] sector, to help them make more informed decisions on what to build and where”, according to the government’s plan.

“We will take a radical, digital-first approach to modernise the planning process. This means moving from a process based on documents to a process driven by data,” it added.

The government wants to boost the proptech sector as well, enabling it to transform housing, land and planning industries with innovative products that are interoperable with others.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the government estimates the sector is worth over £6bn, and it wants to provide local data to technology companies working in the property and development space to “drive a digital revolution” in the sector.

In 2019, the government announced the launch of a proptech innovation council to help the sector boost productivity and ensure government data and decisions “support the sector’s growth in the UK and internationally”.

The proposals set out by the government for the planning system said it wants a reformed system “that is based on data, rather than documents, and will help to provide the data that innovators and entrepreneurs, including the burgeoning proptech sector, need to build new technology to help improve citizen engagement and planning processes”.

One of the key proposals is for decision-making to be made faster, and with greater use of digital technology.

“For all types of planning application, regardless of the category of land, we want to see a much more streamlined and digitally enabled end-to-end process which is proportionate to the scale and nature of the development proposed, to ensure decisions are made faster,” the plan said.

This includes digitising the application process, creating a national data standard for smaller applications and allowing for a “new, more modular software landscape to encourage digital innovation and provide access to underlying data”.

“This will help automate routine processes, such as knowing whether new applications are within the rules, which will support faster and more certain decision-making,” the plan said. “We will work with tech companies and local planning authorities to modernise the software used for case-managing a planning application to improve the user experience for those applying and reduce the errors and costs currently experienced by planning authorities.”

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