At times, life since last March has seemed to stand still. It was – and continues to be – a tricky year. But looking at the positives, the hardship of 2020 has offered a moment of pause and reflection.
Covid has driven a genuine transformation of the planning system. The process had already started, but the global pandemic has sped it up. It has been clear to see that using the right digital technology can broaden reach, increase civic engagement and build trust and consensus to deliver beautiful, liveable places.
How we plan our cities and how the industry works need to change. This is not a short-term sticking plaster – lack of trust, transparency, over-complexity and under-engagement are long-term problems. Speeding up the planning system, getting much-needed housing built and revitalising town centres are fundamental to supporting the government’s levelling-up agenda and future-proofing the industry.
Central to meeting these aims is looking at how best to support and deliver Local Plans. By adopting ‘PlanTech’ technologies that already exist, the reams of documentation that currently make up Local Plans can be replaced by web-based platforms and a common data environment, meaning data, plans and models can be collated, shared and analysed more readily.
Using accurate, 3D digital visualisation tools can reduce the uncertainty of planning and speed up crucial design decisions to assess real-world impacts. This helps de-risk the process early for developers and councils, minimising the chance of a scheme being brought forward that is of poor design and unpopular with the local community, and reducing the risk of appeal.
The dash to digital does not come without its struggles. We cannot – and should not – close the door on those unable to meet its demands, or marginalise disconnected citizens. The onus is on industry leaders to recognise the moment of reflection Covid has afforded us, trailblaze best practice and innovate with technology. Let’s find that silver lining and use the opportunity to transform our planning system and ensure it is fit for the future.
Alex Tosetti is CCO of VU.CITY