Could the Planning White Paper's digital first approach be applied more widely?

By Gill Kneller | 15 December 2020

I have to admit that it’s not often a White Paper gets me so interested and excited about its opportunities. I devoured August’s Planning for the Future White Paper like Pac-Man hunts down his digital dots.

Whatever you think of the planning policy elements of the White Paper, its radical digital-first approach to modernise the planning process couldn’t have come at a better time.

As we’re now all working at the heart of the digital stratosphere, thanks to the pandemic, the paper is on-trend; it will make the user experience easier, quicker and more engaging. It will also help our planning teams and it could save money, time and frustration.

The paper sets out how local planning authorities will need to totally re-invent community engagement so it is truly accessible and actually engaging to residents. We know planning documents can be dry, technical and not exactly user-friendly so this is a huge step to becoming relevant to our residents.

Having live real-time access to information with useful 3D visuals is already increasing public participation in trials.

Instead of planning officers wading through lengthy comments, AI will act as their first line of filtering, making it easier and more efficient for councils, and far simpler and clearer for users.

The prospect of user-centric services so that we’re designing the processes around our residents and their needs is exactly what we should be doing.

By taking this approach we could not only revolutionise the planning system – the scope is limitless. It could profoundly change how local government operates.

If we can do it for planning, it got me thinking, where else we can apply it and what bigger opportunities are there that we could embrace?

Perhaps we need to think more as a collective rather than individual councils. We could reduce duplication, share development costs and even use the same systems to increase opportunities for mutual aid.

I don’t think this radical transformation will be easy. But we didn’t sign up to do the easy thing – we signed-up to do the right thing for our communities.

Gill Kneller is chief executive of East Hampshire DC and Havant BC


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