Planning and technology – more than a means to an end?

The current planning review and Planning Bill, once enacted, will have a significant impact on the roles of planners and planning authorities in the years to come. This year’s Scottish Young Planner’s Conference looked at the potential transformation of the planning system as a result better use of technological advances and new approaches to construction and design. 

Rhiannon Moylan MRTPI of Glasgow City Council, and Lisa Proudfoot MRTPI of Montagu Evans – both members of the SYPN steering group – share their thoughts following the Scottish Young Planners’ Conference 2018 

Grasping the potential of technology in the here and now – Rhiannon Moylan

SYPN steering group 2
RTPI Scottish Young Planners Network (SYPN) Annual Conference, Strathclyde University, Glasgow. 14.3.18 Picture Copyright: Iain McLean, 79 Earlspark Avenue, Glasgow G43 2HE 07901 604 365 photomclean@googlemail.com http://www.iainmclean.com All Rights Reserved No Syndication Free for editorial use by third parties only in connection with the commissioning client’s press-released story. All other rights are reserved.

If I could use one word to describe the 2018 young planners conference it would be, inspirational.

Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government and Housing, started the day off by saying that technology is changing the face of planning in the here and now. This idea really resonated with me as a young planner. Technology will change planning, the same way it has changed almost every aspect of our lives. The focus for me as a young planner is to make sure this change, in the here and now, is for the better!  It was great to have the minister recognise the importance of planning. To say that the economy depends on the planning system was a bold statement but very much true. Throughout the day speakers noted that the planning and construction industries’ use of technology is limited. There were several examples given which illustrated the impact technology could have on planning. This ranged from using virtual reality to improve place making to building prefab housing offsite in factories. As Calum Murray of CCG Ltd reminded delegates if we don’t embrace change we will miss key opportunities. However it’s important to note the comments of Liz Pringle, Head of Digital Planning at Scottish Government, who said that we need to understand the problems before we can jump into solutions.

For me the biggest hurdles for planning are collaboration and communication. We need to work much harder to share our knowledge, data, and experience (particularly in these testing economic times) and technology could be invaluable – if we work together. It was encouraging in one workshop to see the work of Liam Turbett of EKOS and Phil Prentice of Scotland’s Towns Partnership who have the pulled together a range of data sets to produce the Towns Toolkit. This is an excellent source of information for communities and a prime example of how technology and collaboration can help communities and planners work better together.

In the second workshop I attended Pam Ewen of Fife Council and Pauline Mills of Taylor Wimpey spoke about the importance of communication when it comes to decision making. They highlighted the significance of looking across the table to make sure you understand both sides of the story, to show respect, and to listen. In times of rapidly changing digital technologies it was good to have a reminder that sometimes going back to basics and communicating face to face can be the most effective solution.

My one hope is that with an increase in technology and communication we continue to focus on improving communities and shaping places. Yes technology is an invaluable tool, but as was said by Callum Murray it is about evolution not revolution. We can’t forget the aim of planning which is about making better, more sustainable places for people to work and live.

After the conference I am filled with optimism. Three young planners shared their enthusiasm for the profession; they literally took to their soap box and sang their praises for the planning profession and the work that we as planners do everyday. When someone is so passionate about their profession, it rubs off. I left the conference full of motivation and determination. Yes, new technologies will change the face of planning. Yes it will come with challenges. But with such an energised group of young planners, surely this can only be for the better?

Technology to bring planning to life – Lisa Proudfoot

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 The Scottish Government has recognised the “huge potential that exists through harnessing the use of digital technologies and data more effectively” and has already made way with establishing a Digital Task Force looking at making development plans more accessible and responsive to “live” information.

By increasing the ability of the planning system to react to change, there is opportunity to develop more creative approaches, where development plans are already evolving into something more intelligent than simply a read alone document. Now we are seeing drones flying over sites and virtual reality animations of our environments.

As planners we need to accept that people often work and see differently from a 3D perspective, and that the rigid and disciplined nature of development planning can sometimes be intimidating, particularly for communities looking to engage or young people looking to decide on a career!

There is often a level of inconsistency in the understanding of some technologies. Just like figuring out the features of your new phone or tablet, technology can take time to understand and develop. It will however play a part in moving the development sector forward and will contribute to how people, and planners, envisage spaces around them. Virtual reality, amongst other 3D tools, IT and mobile app technology has allowed placemaking to come alive in new ways.

Planning is in the spotlight for the right reasons with digital transformation at the forefront. As young planners, who have typically grown up in the digital age, we are well placed to champion and lead the profession into the new digital era. It is therefore in the best interests of the profession to ensure that young planners are at the forefront sharing their knowledge and ideas, and are well supported by leadership groups.

We really can animate planning and bring it to life.

Is technology the real challenge?

It could be said though that the biggest adjustment facing the industry is not technology itself but apprehension in the face of ‘cultural change.’

Whilst there is certainly potential to transform the way people engage with the system through technology, we must ensure that we take people along with us, investing not just financially but personally, placing users at the heart of the approach. Boosting inclusion, technology should supplement the value added decision-making by Planners.

Importantly with all this talk of technology it is key to not lose sight of what planners are trained to do – to come to balanced and reasoned decisions! Planning is subjective and cannot simply be resolved with technology alone. We need professional judgement and personal input, and this will always be the case.

A common theme occurring throughout the conference is that planning needs to experiment, and the rise of technology is an ideal time to do so.

There is a huge opportunity for change and planning has the appetite for this. As planners we promote and deliver positive change in our built environments, and so inevitably we must embrace positive change within our own planning systems too.

I feel Irene Beautyman, Improvement Service, summed up perfectly that if someone can sit on a bus travelling to work and have the ability to comment on a Local Development Plan on their mobile phone, then we are on to something. It is both about better using the technology that is already available to us, and seeking new ways to engage. It certainly sounds a lot more appealing that sporting your winter wellies and heading out to the community hall!

The Scottish Young Planner’s Conference is, as always, a great success with bright minds coming together with a shared passion for planning.

A new and enhanced National Planning Framework is next on the cards, and young planners are encouraged to get involved in shaping the way our country develops. This is such an exciting time for the profession, and as young planners the future should be embraced!

Thanks to the conference headline sponsor:

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And supporters:

 

 

Most of the conference presentations are now online, here.

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