Like many other authorities Camden’s Planning Service is an end to end service that covers all aspects of planning from plan making (strategic planning, local plans, planning guidance and supporting neighbourhood planning); place shaping (master planning and urban design); decision taking; monitoring; planning for infrastructure (including S106 agreements and CIL); and planning enforcement.
Recently, Camden has started to explore ways in which the service can work more collaboratively, share data more effectively, speed up both plan making and decision taking and improve the way that key user groups/stakeholders interact and engage with the planning service.
Early discussions internally with officers across the service have revealed that the biggest barriers to success are existing ways of working and technology. Historically different aspects of planning (and the teams in which they sit) have developed and procured their own IT programmes and systems. This has led to a fragmented system that makes it difficult to streamline cross service processes. As a result staff (both senior and junior) are bogged down doing routine and repetitive admin tasks which causes delay and reduces their ability to carry out added value tasks like more involved face to face engagement with communities. This situation is not unique to Camden. Through our engagement with organisations like PAS, POS and relationships with other authorities we know that Local Planning Authorities up and down the country are also experiencing difficulties unifying their planning functions and delivering a planning service that meets the expectations of users who are becoming increasingly more digital savvy and are frustrated that their experience of the planning service seems outdated and very different to how they are able to use technology in other areas of their lives.
Key challenges that can be addressed by developing a more streamlined and automated planning service:
Data management and utilisation – The planning service receives and generates a lot of data but this data is often hard to access and hidden across multiple PDF documents. The inaccessibility of this data not only presents a big challenge for plan making and place shaping in terms of ensuring that the plans and guidance are based on a comprehensive and up to date place and trend based evidence.
Communication – Our customer satisfaction survey highlights that customers are unhappy with the lack of contact they receive during the planning application process particularly at the start, the lack of transparency of progress with their application and generally the time taken.
Community trust – We need to ensure the system is as easy to access for the silent majority as the vocal minority. A recent national survey by Grosvenor Estates revealed that just 2% of the public trust developers and only 7% trust local authorities when it comes to planning for large scale development.
Whilst digital transformation will not be the silver bullet that solves all these problems, it will help us be more consistent, efficient and transparent.
The Local Digital Declaration affirms our collective ambition for local public services in the internet age, and our commitments to realising it. Digital tools and technology will allow us to build services more quickly, flexibly and effectively, and deliver the next generation of planning services which are more engaging and easier for communities and other stakeholders to use. Planning authorities across the country are grappling with the potential of disruptive technology and data.
In common with most local planning authorities the current tools that Camden’s planning service use are antiquated and mitigate against transforming the service to deliver a more data driven, customer focused and resident friendly service which delivers better value for money. There are a growing number of tools and products focused on different aspects of the planning system which this roadmap will review and prioritise. The aim of our bid is to produce a road map which will support local planning authorities to solve their common problems more effectively, develop their digital capacity and deliver high quality services. This will involve an end-to-end audit of Camden’s planning service to provide an overview of the opportunities that new ways of working, data and technology can present at each stage of the planning process.
The audit will challenge existing policies, processes and procedures from the perspective of user needs. It will identify short, medium and long term opportunities and outline business cases for priority areas to enable local planning authorities to move quickly in line with agile project/programme management principles, so cost effective scalable solutions can be rapidly deployed that meet user needs and deliver immediate benefits. We intend to use Camden as a test case for the basis for building a framework and road map that could be applied nationwide.
Interviews, data research, an ideation sprint and user testing will be conducted to help us to understand the nature of Camden’s existing planning service from all perspectives to identify opportunities for digital innovation and harness the rich insight that key actors can provide including developers, residents, staff and other stakeholders in co-design workshops.
Out of this we will produce co-designed process maps which highlight the major opportunities and challenges identified. This will be supplemented by data research with an in-depth review of datasets that play a role in the planning service. Data-sets will be mapped out against emerging capabilities to help prioritise them. We work closely with the GLA on this with regard to maximising the benefits of the Local Development Database Automation project, the London Infrastructure Mapping Tool and the 3DLondon model.
We see this work as being of national significance, providing a template for the end-to-end digital transformation of local planning authorities across the country to use and provide them with the confidence to embark on the path of digitalisation.
We are also keen to explore how social value can be maximised and how this work can support SMEs to enter the digital marketplace.
Camden and its partners are experiencing significant change and population growth. Camden has an identified need for 16,800 additional homes, 695,000sqm of office floor space and 30,000sqm of retail floor space by 2031. While we accept that Camden is a suitable, attractive and sustainable place for growth there is only a limited amount of land available and we need to ensure that where new development takes place it makes efficient use of land and responds to local needs and aspirations. Ensuring that Camden continues to grow, thrive and adapt to changing development pressures is not just important to communities and businesses in Camden but nationwide. To help facilitate good growth we need efficient, proactive, community and data led planning services.
Nationwide Plan Tech is fundamentally challenging the way planning services are delivered and helping to ensure that the types of developments coming forward meet the current and future needs of local communities and businesses, but the array of new Plan Tech solutions is daunting. Camden, its partners and other Local Planning Authorities across the country are working on harnessing this disruptive technology. However currently there is no best practice template and authorities all have different skills, priorities and legacy systems to consider.
The cost to Camden’s planning service and others nationwide of continuing in analogue whilst the world marches on in digital is unquantifiable not only in terms of efficiency and delivery of targets but also how easy it is for users to access planning services. It also has a direct impact nationally on things like the delivery of new homes, commercial floorspace and infrastructure projects.
We hope with this funding to produce a road map for the digitisation of a Council planning service which can be used by Councils nationwide to stimulate the deployment of new technologies in the right way, in line with the 5 Local Digital Declaration principles, and help deliver improved services on low budgets.
The road map will enable Councils to understand their digital readiness, to quickly develop a greater understanding of the capabilities, maturity and opportunities for the application of digital technology and help Councils nationwide on their transition to a more transparent, efficient and effective digital planning system enabling them to deliver more with less. Examples of cost savings include:
- Automation of low value resource intensive tasks such as validation and monitoring
- Increase speed and flexibility of decisions and policy making by unlocking the power of data and generating better more up to date insight
- Increased certainty for developers, infrastructure providers and local communities
- Increased transparency and inclusiveness by involving more effectively the public and other stakeholders throughout the process
The product will be a road map with a supporting user research report which will provide a replicable framework for conducting the same detailed discovery around individual planning processes within a whole systems approach. It will contain a prioritised list of planning services that could be digitised and within that list an identified number of services that could be prototyped and form the basis for potential alpha projects and possible future joint funding bids
The road map will provide best practice guidance on user research and service design so that Councils can quickly and confidently gain greater insight into the process and functioning of their service and data flows and rapidly identify opportunities for digital innovation based around the needs of the people using the service.
We know that the cost of procuring a road map can be between £75,000-£100,000. In line with Local Digital Declaration principles we see this project as helping local planning authorities build capacity in service design and digital transformation to enable them to take the necessary cultural and technological shift. It will reduce the risk of Councils overlaying new technology on old ways of working, procuring the wrong technological solutions, ensure they focus on the ends not the means and make best user of existing user research. It will ensure that Local Digital Declaration principles and the Technology Code of Practice are embedded in redesign of planning services across the country.
Our partners are inside and outside London as we want to ensure this framework is sensitive to the different ways planning services are delivered across the country and therefore can be universally applied by local planning authorities. We want to challenge existing processes and procedures which have been reinforced and locked in by existing IT solutions and look at how we can use technology to make planning more fulfilling and meaningful for staff, more open and transparent for applicants and more engaging for residents.
Each partner will have a nominated project lead on the steering group from within their planning service. Camden will provide five members of the steering group, one from each of the four planning teams, along with Camden’s Digital & Data Service. The project will be coordinated and managed through slack or similar collaborative tools. The steering group will meet every 1-2 weeks, our partners from Lambeth, Leeds and Westminster will join via video conference. All outputs from the user-research will be shared with our partners so they can compare with their own research and experience to ensure we focus on the right priorities and highlight common problems and develop solutions to these. The role of our partners is to be critical friends offering an independent perspective, learning from each other, sense checking user research and solutions at each stage, and helping to ensure that the resultant roadmap could be used by other Councils.
Our intention is to be able to scale the results of our discovery project to a national level, additional support from MHCLG, GLA and other pan-London and national groups to be able to fully realise this deliverable would ensure that we are able to meet all of our targets. This will produce a roadmap and framework which is not limited to Camden or our partner boroughs, but allow for other authorities to use it as a base to apply their own unique needs and outputs.
We’d seek support from the wider community, including the Local Digital Collaboration Unit for assistance on jargon busting and taking advantage of the free digital skills training as well as the agile teams training provided under the fund.