Over the past few decades, the advance in technology has changed the way people live, work and play. Nevertheless, it appears the planning system has remained largely unchanged during the same period. Today, many Local Planning Authorities are still using the same systems and processes that they have used over a decade ago. For officers, these tools are dated and very time consuming to use. To the public, the system is complex and lack of transparency, whereas the documents are lengthy, dull and ‘full of jargon’.
To re-engage people and to make planning interesting again, I have developed a pilot programme for the Local Plan consultation when I was working in Northumberland County Council. It was the first interactive online spatial survey to be used within planning context, which aimed to capture the high-level views on preferred strategic locations for development and the big issues that should be tackled from people within the county for the Local Plan.
Screenshot of the Survey – Part II: Spatial Factor to Consider in Northumberland (Author’s Image)
The online spatial survey was divided into few sections. Firstly, participants were shown the interactive map of Northumberland with a number of important spatial factors that could influence the location of future housing and employment development. This included a number of planning and environmental designations, such as the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They can zoom in/ out or find out more information by click on the links for each item.
Screenshot of the Survey – Part III: Preferred Location for Housing and Employment Development (Author’s Image)
After understanding the relevant context, participants were shown a map of the county and to add symbols to the map to show their broad preferred locations for housing development (five choices) and employment development (five choices). Lastly, respondents were asked to select the issues they thought were the most important to them to consider within the Local Plan.
Survey Results – Preferred Housing Locations in Heat Map Format (Author’s Image)
The consultation was hugely successful, with over 700 responses over five weeks (687 online submissions and 20 paper submissions). More than 90% of the respondents were also satisfied with the experience of this consultation, with a majority of positive comments. Additionally, there are many advantages to this method of consultation, such as the ability to monitor the live data throughout the consultation period, saved time and resources in analysing the data etc. With that in mind, could this be the next thing in planning and in line with the approach from the central government – reshape places from the bottom-up (DCLG, 2011)?
DCLG (2011) Localism Bill: Abolition of the Regional Planning Tier and Introduction of the Duty of Cooperate. London: DCLG