Business Applications Editor
Published: 13 May 2022 10: 30
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, delivered by Prince Charles, includes proposals for digital planning powers to be given to local authorities in England and Wales, based on open data.
In the speech, the government outlines the legislative programme it intends to pursue in the upcoming parliamentary session. It is stated that “the planning process will be reformed to allow residents to have more input into local development.”
The new powers will, said the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, set “consistent data standards for the way in which planning authorities will be required to receive and process planning data”. Open data will be required and must be made available to the public at no cost. The “approved planning software that supports modern, data-driven planning systems” will be required by planning authorities.
The department also states that the new planning system, as envisaged, will “enable more people, and a more diverse range of people, to engage with it and to better understand the trade-offs and benefits involved with proposed developments in their local areas”.
The original white paper that underpins the proposed bill was unveiled by levelling up secretary Michael Gove on 2 February.
It states that it intends to “improve home buying and selling, working with industry to ensure critical information is available digitally whenever possible from trusted and authenticated source”.
Gove’s enthusiasm for data is well known, and featured in his noted Ditchley Park speech, given in July 2020. This suggested the use of data analytics in order to modernize the state.
Gove stated in it: “Government must evaluate data more rigorously and that means opening data up so other can judge the effectiveness programmes as well. Qualified outsiders are needed to challenge us. If Government ensures its departments and agencies share and publish data far more, then data analytics specialists can help us more rigorously evaluate policy successes and delivery failures.”
Since then, prime minister Boris Johnson has put Gove, possibly the only minister in his government with a reputation – deserved or not – as a thinker, in charge of the government’s putative levelling up agenda.
In August 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as it was then, published a proposal to reform the planning system in England, including a digital overhaul and an open data approach. The proposal stated that it was aiming to create a planning system that “unlocks data needed by property developers, and the emerging property tech [proptech], to help them make better decisions about what to build and where.”
“We will take a radical, digital-first approach to modernise the planning process,” it said at the time. “This means moving from a process based on documents to a process driven by data.”
In the meantime, the department has been running projects to improve planning data and software, under the heading “Digital Land“, including ones about conservation areas, development, brownfield land, green belt areas, gypsy and traveller sites, and woodlands.
And, in November 2021, the department launched two expressions of interest invitations for councils who want to improve their planning software.
The Scottish government published a strategy document describing its plans to digitise the country’s planning system in November 2020, entitled Transforming places together: Scotland’s digital strategy for planning, which set out its intention to establish a “framework for long-lasting change and improvement, putting data and technology at the heart of a planning system designed for the future”.
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