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Town planning: Have we reached the local plan model on the cloud?

As we move towards a digitally built Britain, can we harness these advancements to aid our town planning decision-making process?

Currently, a planning application package from a BIM workflow is 2D drawings and information is submitted as written reports. This means the assessment of the planning application will be the interpretation of these printed shapes and written words.

The inclusion of an information model, however, would reduce the risk of misinterpretation of a planning application.

“It is not about evolving tools; it is about evolving the way people approach decisions”

Against this backdrop, the National Planning Policy Framework has devolved policy-making to the local authorities of each district. With the obligation that they form a plan, plan-makers are directed to the Office for National Statistics, which provides open data, setting an objective of data-based evidence.

Do we have the tools to change town planning?

In short: yes, we have rapidly increased uptake of BIM, we have access to open data and we have a new generation of geographic information systems (GIS) analytics software, with easily understood graphic interfaces to data.

We have the ability to create urban 3D models from aerial photography and viewing interfaces which allow us to fly and walk through our virtual adaptions of reality. With more smart devices than people in the UK, we have the interface to actively involve the population in planning their environment.

It is not about evolving tools; it is about evolving the way people approach decisions.

How would the decision-making process adapt?

Imagine a two-stage process using a cloud-based model of a local plan.

First, the decision criteria such as space standard, and criteria about context such as daylight, are assessed. The manifestation of constraints as zones within the model would be used to verify compliance.

This means the design team could evolve its design with reference to the local model and an application would be registered once these first-stage criteria are met.

The second stage is a consultation process facilitated by interfaces with the model. This allows for verification that subjective criteria are satisfied, using expert consultation to ensure risks are mitigated and the proposal constitutes no harm.

The model can then be used to facilitate a community consultation. If an adequate number of opinions can be accessed, this could be considered more representative and direct than the opinion of a representative committee.

Interaction with the communities will facilitate collaboration and enable bottom-up definition to evolve within a local plan. This will lead to local distinctiveness which can encompass the desires of a wider spectrum of people within a community, such as wishes for innovation, sustainability and efficiency as well as conservation.

Rosemarie Andrews is managing director at Hot Algorithmic Architecture. She will be expanding on the potential interface between BIM and town planning at BIM Show Live 2017 taking place on 1-2 February in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

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