How digital innovation is transforming the planning process and supporting future cities

Alex Cousins, business development director at Capita explores how digital innovation and technology is transforming the planning process and supporting future cities.

While digital technologies have transformed the way that people live, work and play, built environment professionals are still reliant on 19th century governance and 20th century tools to tackle our 21st century urban problems. This was the point was made by Nicola Yates, CEO of Future Cities, at a recent #CityX 2018 conference.   

I attended the first day of this conference, which focused around “the adaptable city” to find out more about their plan tech catapult. It was great to see all the exciting developments created by the tech community and discover how local authorities such as Gateshead Council, the London Borough of Southwark and Milton Keynes Council are also developing digital innovations in their planning functions. It was clear that there is great opportunity to transform the planning process and what stood out is how public trust and customer experience are at the heart of this transformation.  

We couldn't agree more. Capita delivers planning services to over 100 local authorities across the UK and we are excited by the opportunities to drive innovation and enable our clients to deliver growth in their place. Our aim is to delight our customers and we recognise that we need to invest to ensure we do this. 

Investment is happening and a key focus of that investment is creating data and digitally driven services. We have already made significant progress and have started our very own plan tech project which explores the world of digital planning and researches and tests the journey of introducing bots, drones, satellites and other digital innovations into the planning process. Through our investment we are able to bring our model to the “mass” market so that councils’ can immediately benefit and co-create without having to make the investment themselves. We are investing so our clients don’t have too! 

We have tested out the use of bots that will help to remove the time-consuming planning tasks away from our planners, releasing them to focus their expertise and skills on major planning schemes, deliver outcomes from their local plans and work on spatial plan visions. The bots will complete certain aspects of the planning application process which can be automated and identify rich data and insight to inform planning policy. The idea behind this is to target the high volume, time hungry and low income aspects of the service which take up a large amount of time and resource but add little value to achieving strategic planning outcomes. 

We are co-designing this project with our customers across Greater Manchester, a place renown for ambition which has set a goal to be a world leading digital city region. So, where else to do this in Greater Manchester but Media City in Salford Quays, an international hub for technology, innovation and creativity.  

At The Landing in Media City, we are extremely blessed to have access to local tech start-up businesses to help drive the innovation we seek. Jon Corner, the city's digital officer and the team, have created a great place to innovate.  Media City has grown into a smart city test bed attracting companies to use the assets to create new services for the 21st century. The University of Salford is also located here with access to their data scientists to help us unlock the data from the thousands of documents and policies that drive the planning service.      

Our ultimate aim is to enable City regions to be self-sufficient in the planning process and empowering them to attract investment, and in doing so we will support local wealth creation by working with their existing local assets and people.  

About Alex Cousins, Business development director, Capita. 

Alex is a passionate public servant who has worked across the public and private sector for over 30 years. She has led digitally focused transformation programmes and is at the forefront of Capita’s Northern Powerhouse strategy which focuses on physical, digital and social infrastructure to create good growth and enable public sector reform. 

To find out more you can contact Alex at alex.cousins@capita.co.uk 

Providing planning enforcement support to Trafford Council

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'At the end of the day the crucial factor for the host is the quality, competence and attitude of the individual. We found that Brian Johnson was excellent in all these regards. The support and communication to us as the host authority from Capita has always been of a high standard'

Graeme Levy ,Regulatory services manager, Trading Standards & Licensing, Trafford Council

Providing short term planning support to Chorley Council

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‘Capita was very knowledgeable and adapted quickly to the job, learning new policies and methods of working with ease'

Caron Taylor, Principal planner, Chorley Council

Providing planning resilience support to The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

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By adding extra capacity, The Royal Borough of Windsor was able to maintain a high level of service to its customers by reducing planning application delays from backlogs.

The Royal Borough of Windsor