We can fly around the world with a tap; find a soulmate with a swipe and buy a house with our thumb print, so why is the UK so old school when it comes to getting planning permission?
The good news is that we needn’t be. The technology to revolutionise the planning process is already here and is being used in other countries around the world to build the homes, offices and infrastructure they need to flourish.
The benefits are wide-ranging: developers can secure a more robust consent, more quickly; communities are better informed and feel properly engaged and ultimately better places are created.
Here are a few examples of how technology can be used to improve the planning and development process:
This ledger technology allows instantaneous and inviolable sharing of data by the use of timestamped blocks. This could be used to speed up the grant and implementation of planning permission by using it to validate a planning application and to record compliance with planning conditions, Section 106 obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy payments.
The beauty of blockchain is that it can be updated in real time and can sit behind various formats. City Zenith, a Chicago-based company has recently launched a platform creating an interactive 3D city model. The idea is that, in time, users will be able to access the data embedded in the model and see all the property and planning information relating to the buildings.
2. 3D Printing
Blockchain can also ensure a smooth and timely transition to construction and fits particularly well with 3D printing. The planning requirements can be fed into the computer linked to the printing robots, who will proceed with the build, ensuring that it is planning compliant.
3D printing is advancing at a fast pace. In the Netherlands the first 3D printed neighbourhood is expected to be up and running next year. Houses are being printed by robots that can a complete a building in 12 hours. Models currently cost around $10,000 in materials but the company producing the houses expects to reduce this figure to $4,000.
The Dubai Government announced its 3D Printing Strategy in April 2016 and expects 25% of Dubai’s construction to be 3D printed by 2030. Its new ‘Office of the Future’ took only 17 days to print and was installed on site in two days.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Another exciting advancement in the PlanTech world is the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). What’s the difference? AR superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world. VR on the other hand, is an all surrounding computer-generated experience in a simulated environment, so VR is much more immersive.
One of the key aspects of the planning process is the assessment of the impacts of a development. This often involves lengthy Environmental Statements and reports which take a long time to put together and a significant amount of time to review.
The use of VR and AR can reduce this markedly by replacing the written word with visual examples which provide a lifelike replica of the completed development, allowing planners, councillors, developers and local residents to understand more about how the building will look and operate. It is already being used in planning inquiries in the UK and particularly in relation to daylight and sunlight modelling.
Providing a working model of the development dramatically increases the chances of ensuring that a quality product is ultimately produced, which is excellent news for the built environment.
According to PwC, the global market for business services using drones is worth more than £96 billion, with a sizeable chunk going to real estate management. As well as addressing compliance and transparency issues, the use of drones can help developers to show the current state of a site and existing issues which might be affecting it.
The surveying benefits which drones offer could mean that a developer is able to demonstrate the positive effects of its development compared to the existing site.
The amount of data within planning applications, local plans and development plan documents is colossal. Harnessing this information in an effective way provides a fantastic opportunity to reform the planning system.
Artificial intelligence products can review and collate data at an astonishing pace. If other industries are embracing this latest technology to innovate and grow, the planning world needs to ensure that it is not left behind.
Companies like Google and Facebook are already designing their own cities using this technology and local planning authorities need to get behind this too, particularly as resources and staffing numbers are squeezed.
Back to the Future
Such new technology gives the government and the real estate industry the means to revolutionise the UK planning process, but is there the will to do so? I certainly hope so.
Yes, it will take some time and effort to put these new systems in place, but investing in this area now could dramatically improve the success of our economy and the places that we live, work and play. After all, opportunity doesn’t knock on your door anymore – it sends you an email.