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Scottish government unveils strategy for digital planning

Scotland’s government has published a document that describes its strategy for the digitisation of the nation’s planning system

The Scottish government has published a strategy document describing its plans to digitise the country’s planning system.

Transforming places together: Scotland’s digital strategy for planning outlined what Kevin Stewart, minister for local government, housing and planning, called a “framework for long-lasting change and improvement, putting data and technology at the heart of a planning system designed for the future” in the report’s foreword.

The 92-page document is informed by the Covid-19 pandemic in the sense that it has “sharpened our focus on the importance of our places and links to health and wellbeing”, and announced a five-year plan of digital transformation for planning for the built environment, beginning in spring 2021.

It said the programme will be based on five “missions”, which plan to unlock planning data, make digital planning end to end, “create the conditions for digital to flourish”, use collaboration tools, and “embed a culture of digital innovation”.

John McNairney, chief planner for the government, said in a preface to the document that it draws on a two-year consultation with bodies such as Digital Taskforce, the Economic Advisory Group on Digital Planning, Heads of Planning Scotland, COSLA, The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the Improvement Service and the Local Government Digital Office, as well as the general public.

As part of this effort, the government commissioned research from the RTPI that was issued in the report, The benefits of investing in a digital planning service.

It also organised what the document called “pathfinder projects”, run with Scottish Futures Trust, the Improvement Service, British Geological Survey and the Local Government Digital Office to gather information that will underpin the programme.

The strategy document envisaged a move away from “current systems to modular, open and flexible solutions that enable public sector planners to rapidly benefit from technology progress and innovations including augmented reality and 3D visualisations, AI and machine learning and digital twin technologies”.

It also advocated the use of “data to reduce and automate repetitive tasks releasing resource and focusing planners time on where their professional expertise adds most value”.

The planning permission process that will eventuate from the programme is described as one “where applicants understand whether they need planning permission and whether they have submitted a valid (complete) application that will improve the user experience, and reduce resource overhead at the planning authority”.

By the end of 2025, the goal is a “Planning Scotland Gateway portal bringing the services, tools and data together as a single point of entry to information and services”, the report said.

“The Planning Scotland Gateway will become the home for the new digital services, data and tools used in a future planning service. It will surface these to users including citizens, investors, developers, communities, architects and planning agents or other public sector bodies,” it added.

The report said that, in the short term, the Digital Planning function of the government “will publish a flexible roadmap, beyond the initial 18-24 months, which can achieve the programme goals and have the ability to adapt to new innovation and changing priorities for the sector”.

Liz Pringle, head of digital planning for the Scottish government, said: “This strategy focusses our minds on building a digital planning system that is not just fit for 2020 or 2021, but a system that looks to the future, embracing new technologies and creating a foundation ready for changes that will come along in years to come, including those that right now would sound only aspirational.”

According to the report, the government will outline a plan to move into a delivery phase from April of 2021.

Read more about the Scottish government’s digitisation drive

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