New London Architecture

Digitisation of Planning: For Better Community Engagement

Tuesday 02 August 2022

Piers Mulroney

Head of Commercial Partnerships & Policy (UK&I)
VU.CITY

The digitisation of planning has become a much touted topic over the past two years. Indeed, what was already a growing trend was accelerated by COVID-19, and the need to shift traditional planning processes online. Engaging communities with proposed development in their local area and encouraging meaningful contributions from citizens has never been more pertinent.  There’s no doubt that a stigma exists regarding public consultation processes. In order to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders, a productive and well-informed consultation process is essential. 3D visualisation of proposed plans is absolutely vital to this, enabling clearer communication across stakeholder and citizen groups and ensuring better understanding. Digesting information in real time - and being able to see precisely the impact a development will have - is needed across the board to redress the UK’s public consultation process. 
  
Proptech Engagement Fund 
 
Bridget Wilkins, who heads up Digital Citizen Engagement at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, kicked off the webinar by highlighting the rapid growth of  the PropTech Engagement Fund. The projects supported by the government via this fund compliments  additional investments from the private sector, who have made significant progress globally in exploring new technology that enhances citizen engagement . This represents a seismic shift towards digital tools as a means of increasing citizen engagement, with the UK government throwing its weight behind the power of technology to improve decision-making, and help communities engage in important discussions that will shape their local areas. 
 
Learning and Growing
Representatives from the London boroughs of Lambeth, Richmond and Wandsworth  highlighted where technology is being used effectively right now to enhance the consultation process. Part of this involves supporting team members to learn new skills using the available technology, so they can better serve local citizens. Jessica Marston, Community Street Design Engagement Manager at London Borough of Lambeth, shared how Lambeth has been using 3D visualisation to demonstrate proposed changes to streets and public realm, allowing local citizens to better understand planned development, as well as give feedback on proposals.
 
These real world case studies of digital tools go a long way to demonstrate the potential impact of technology on the planning industry. Many of the above authorities used the webinar to share more engaging and easily accessible planning content that had been developed through new technology. Consultation companies, local authorities and other stakeholders continue to invest in new ways to reach wider audiences, which is vital to capturing more feedback and information from citizens, helping to make more informed decisions. 
 
Looking to the future with engaged and informed communities
 
Lastly, Angela Koch, Founder of ImaginePlaces stressed that both communities and engaging conversations are at the heart of good consultation. Harnessing new technology is a brilliant supplement to the range of tools available currently, which can help different stakeholders better understand and empathise with each other’s point of view. 
 
A picture tells a thousand words, and what can be perceived as small changes go a huge way in building trust throughout the process and thus enhancing citizen engagement. 
 
We must remember that consultation is, at the end of the day, a human experience. It’s therefore vital that we do all we can to ensure citizens feel a consistent part of the journey through seizing the power of technology and digital tools. 
 


Piers Mulroney

Head of Commercial Partnerships & Policy (UK&I)
VU.CITY



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