LandInsight’s Planning Policy expert explains what made her move from Town Planning, to a prop tech start-up that is revolutionising the way we use and understand data in order to streamline the process of finding off-market land.
You have 10 years experience in the industry, what got you into it?
Cities and the built environment have always fascinated me. The way they are shaped and formed over time and the impact these have on people and their lives. Although initially wanting to be an architect, I decided on a degree in Town and Country planning as it encompassed more about the development of areas rather than just individual buildings. It also interested me that town planning took into consideration how people interact with areas and how they use these spaces. Whilst at university in Manchester, I learnt about planning policy, the importance it holds in the decision making process, and how it is used to steer development in one direction or another.
It wasn’t until this course that I had ever come across planning policy and even from the on set I could see that it was a very confusing set of documents that took a long time to get your head around. After graduating and spending more time using them in a real work environment I could see that the issues surrounding planning policy were huge.
What did you learn about the importance of planning policy?
After graduating I was fortunate to go and work for one of the country's leading urban design practices URBED. Here I was working on large and small scale regeneration projects and producing many reports, from Area Action Plans to regeneration strategies. During my 7 years here, I spent a large amount of time getting to grips with the role policy has in shaping the type of development in any area. After this I moved into more traditional planning, where I was managing planning applications for a variety of developers. During this time, I spent a huge amount of time working with policies from a variety of different boroughs across the country, creating policy justifications for why development should be permitted in an area. I saw, and personally experienced, many of the frustrations people working with planning policy have raised to me.
Why do you feel Planning policy could do with a shake up?
First of all, documents can be hard to find on council websites and each website is laid out in a different way, so lots of time is wasted just to get your head around the different sites. When you do find the documentation you are looking for there is no standardised format that makes it easy to understand the information. Let’s say you are looking for proposals maps, some councils will have them in PDF format, some have online interactive map but some still require you to buy a copy and pay with a cheque!
Once you have the map there is no assurance that you will be able to understand it. Maps are often confusing with many policies on the same map and a key that is not attached to the map. If you are looking at a low resolution PDF it can be difficult to locate an address on a map and determine where policy boundaries are, which could result in wasted time and money.
Another issue is the lack of consistency between different boroughs, which makes reviewing the policy on a site that sits across 2 boroughs confusing. Even text documents offer little consistency between boroughs. The same policy in neighbouring boroughs will often have a different name.
All these factors make planning policy confusing to understand and time consuming if done right. This can often put people off developing as they don’t understand the constraints and end up making costly mistakes. I don’t think it needs to be this way and if we want to get more homes built to make a difference in the housing crisis we need to be doing all we can to make the process as easy as possible for people.
All of this sounds terribly depressing but this article isn’t all doom and gloom. LandInsight is changing how you work with Planning Policy.
How is LandInsight changing up the way industry actors work with Policy?
We have spent countless hours working hand in hand with industry partners and some of our customers to identify the pain points associated with policy. We are developing ways that will enable users to work with planning policy in a much easier fashion. We are keen to not just solve the problem of how to map multiple policies in an understandable manner, but also develop a way that makes it much easier for everyone to view policies relevant to their potential development.
The last few months I have been working with our development team create a solution that addresses the issues we all face with planning policy. We have, amongst other things, done the following:
Brought policy from all boroughs together to a single place on LandInsight, reducing the need to waste time searching multiple council websites.
Standardised the policy to create user friendly data for looking at policy in multiple areas.
Developed a way that allows you to view specific policies relevant to your site in a quick and simple way.
Used the highest quality maps allowing you to zoom into policies at a detailed site specific level and have a clear understanding of the policies in that area.
LandInsight are drivers in changing the way the industry uses information to get development moving. Due to this they are the perfect place to drive forward a change in how we work with planning policy. We are now proud to soon be able to unveil our solution to the industry as a whole.
We will release more information later this week, but you can already join our beta program, giving you exclusive access to have a free trial of our new policy tools before wider release.
Grace is the Head of LandEnhance, where she leads the charge in making life easier for planners. And having been a town planner herself for many years, it's something she cares deeply about – after all, she's now making the kind of tech she could only dream of before.