New London Architecture

Demystifying the dark arts of planning with digital technology

Friday 04 February 2022

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Jason Hawthorne

Founding Director

With the much-awaited levelling up white paper finally published last week, the topic of digitisation has never been more pertinent. The NLA session Precise Planning: The Role of Digital Technologies explored the power of digitisation to improve existing planning policies and introduce new opportunities to streamline the system. 
To me, harnessing the power of digitisation taps into the adage: “seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.” The view from your front door and the design of playgrounds are emotive things, which is why digital tools are so important in telling the story behind development proposals. 

Through 3D visualisation, we are not only able to see, we’re also able to feel impacts in real time. At the heart of VU.CITY are some of the most accurate 3D digital models of cities in the world; we have the whole of London and 22 major UK and international cities modelled, with 90% of London boroughs using the platform every day. Local authorities, developers, architects and planners are using VU.CITY to provide accurate, visual information and analysis to inform better decision making. Being able to visualise change creates an inherently collaborative process for everyone, from citizens to developers. We pride ourselves on helping to demystify the dark arts of planning 
– with applications buried in complex council planning portals and in uninviting town halls 
– into full colour for everyone involved. 
The benefits of precision PlanTech can be seen on a macro and a micro scale, from mapping  three million buildings to 15cm accuracy, to complex wind analysis. For instance, what happens if  we put more than one building into a set space? Layers of data can visualised to understand everything from pedestrian comfort to pollution dispersion and flood risk. Moving into a period of climate uncertainty, this level of complexity will be invaluable. 
Those who live and work in London may well be acquainted with the London View Management Framework (LVMF). The London Plan protects historic views and provides a basis for what can and can’t be developed. Digital tools are vital in demonstrating current viewing corridors and townscape views and applying this data to any new development. This helps streamline the process, making it more efficient and cost-effective overall. Being able to create a new building and immediately see where that building is visible from across all of London is hugely beneficial.

It’s a process that used to take weeks and now takes minutes. You are also able to see all other consents surrounding your proposed building, meaning you aren’t simply looking at the city of today, you’re visualising the planned city of tomorrow. 
There are some that are sceptical that digitisation will truly speed up the delivery of much-needed housing. Does more data create a higher burden of evidence for new development, therefore complicating the conversation? However, we can’t deny the outputs are better, and access to open-source data is a game-changer, offering a significantly larger and clearer evidence base. 
One thing is for certain – we won’t be able to make informed decisions without it. There is so much we don’t know about our cities. Standardising important terms like net zero will be key in assimilating an improved planning system across the UK. For us, it’s non-negotiable that citizens should get to see proposals clearly, and we have been working with organisations like Commonplace to create 3D maps that democratise the process. 
And with the release of the white paper, it’s heartening to see proposals finally being brought forward that will empower local people to revitalise and improve their communities.  However, the government must set out how it aims to do this – the paper has little detail on how it will simplify the planning system to make it more accessible. Digitisation must be a priority, not a nice-to-have, as it will be key to improving and accelerating the levelling up process.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Jason Hawthorne

Founding Director




Planning today


Planning today

Thomas Bender, specialist in heritage and architecture, listed buildings and large developments at planning consultants...

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