Objective supports the vision for the future of local plans

The goal: more accessible, comprehensible and user-centric plan.

Making local plans more accessible, comprehensible and user-centric lies at the heart of the design of Objective Keyplan, a market leading solution for local government authorities to research, draft, consult and publish local plans.

Read our response below, to the open consultation on the implementation of plan making reform published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

Introduction to the consultation on implementation of plan-making reforms

The planning system in the UK aims to promote sustainable development through the creation of local plans and minerals and waste plans. These plans are meant to facilitate the construction of homes and development while preserving and enhancing the natural and historic environment. The government envisions making plans more user-friendly, accessible, and community-driven. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is designed to streamline the plan-making process, making it faster and more efficient. It will reduce policy redundancy, establish clear timelines for plan preparation, and enhance community engagement. Plans will transition from traditional formats to digital, becoming shorter, map-based, and built on standardised data.

A significant emphasis is placed on open data and community participation. The consultation published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on a new style of local plans, also introduces the concept of "Community Land Auctions" to optimise land value capture. These changes will be supported by additional reforms in the broader planning system, and a phased rollout is proposed from autumn 2024. The government is committed to supporting planning authorities in adapting to these changes through a capacity and capability program. This consultation outlines these proposals and seeks feedback from various stakeholders in the planning and development sectors.

Objective's response

Aligning with the Core Principles

Objective strongly aligns with the vision outlined by the DLUHC for the future of local plans. The aim is clear: local plans must become more accessible, comprehensible, and user-centric. We firmly believe that local plans should be easily navigable for the general public, ensuring effective community engagement and understanding. Our stance aligns with DLUHC's objectives, we endorse the introduction of a "policies map" and a "web experience" to cater to these diverse preferences. These additions will contribute to making the plans more user-centric.  Planning policies being treated as data from the start is a critical step to enable the entire process to become digital.

At the core of our support stands the Objective Keyplan system, which allows content to be published in various formats from a single source. This approach offers the efficiency and adaptability needed to address different user preferences and ensure consistency. Objective Keyplan enables the generation of HTML, web and print-ready PDF, and Data outputs directly from the system - aligning with DLUHC's vision for more accessible and user-friendly local plans. This ensures that plans are more accessible and engaging for all stakeholders. 

Objective Keyplan enables the generation of HTML, web and print-ready PDF, and Data outputs directly from the system - aligning with DLUHC's vision for more accessible and user-friendly local plans.

A clear vision in planning

The shift in focus to evidence-based policymaking is noticeable in England and is already in effect in Scotland. According to the local authorities we are engaging with, having the evidence front-loaded at the start of the planning process leads to a quicker and more successful resolution of policymaking.

Having a system in place that links policy decisions to its evidence base, maintaining a single-source of the truth, significantly demonstrates the justification and traceability of the policy. Clear and measurable policies that are machine-readable bring plans to life and close a longstanding gap between policy and Development Management. Removing ambiguity and continuously monitoring the efficiency of policies introduces multiple benefits for all involved, notwithstanding local authorities and the local community.

Clear and measurable policies that are machine-readable bring plans to life and close a longstanding gap between policy and Development Management.

Objective Keyplan aligns with this proposed approach for strengthening links to the evidence base in local planning. It simplifies the process of connecting policies to the research, consultations, and external reports, ensuring that the plan's vision is consistently and transparently reflected throughout.

By creating direct links to all supporting information, Objective Keyplan establishes a chain of evidence from the beginning to the end of the planning process. This enables stakeholders to trace the evolution of policies and understand the rationale behind them. It makes the evidence readily accessible to a broad range of stakeholders and all interested parties, promoting a shared understanding.

Framework for Development Management Policies

The proposed framework for managing National Development Management Policies (NDMP) and Local Development Management (DM) policies is welcomed by Objective and is relatable to successful policy-making that we have seen elsewhere. This approach has already proven successful in jurisdictions like the State of Victoria, Australia, where 79 LPAs have adopted the Objective Keyplan system for statewide policymaking that is then specialised and expanded upon but Local Authorities. Another jurisdiction where Objective Keyplan is in use is New Zealand, where national planning standards have been in place for some time.

Recognising the potential efficiencies of centralising the creation of consistent NDMPs, we see the opportunity to prevent duplication and overlap. This would work well to cascade national decision-making and allow centralised research on specialist or complex topics. This approach aligns with DLUHC's goal of streamlining processes and ensuring effective policy dissemination. Where possible, NDMPs should be adaptable to Local Development Management Policies to suit local needs without the need to be written from scratch.

We propose that the NDMPs are hosted in a centralised repository where local authorities can pull the latest versions, and adopt or refine them using a digital template system for efficient drafting, review, and consultation. This digital template approach can then be wholly or in part automated through Objective Keyplan, ensuring alignment with DLUHC's vision by providing a structured and standardised method for developing local policies. It enhances governance in the planning process, making it more transparent and efficient.

Objective has supported other jurisdictions with this approach, most notably the state of Victoria (Australia).

Standardisation through templates

The use of digital templates to streamline the production of local plans represents a significant step forward in improving the planning process. We have observed examples where a similar approach was taken in Regulated Industries, where regulators specify the template or at least the content requirements and, in some cases, the industry themselves form a representative body to agree on a common template. This includes Ofwat’s recent approach to the Price Review 24, International Sustainability Standards Board and the IFRS standard, and the activities of industry representative bodies in Template definition, such as the Financial Services Council in Australia. All examples where Objective’s digital template system is being applied.

A template-based system would play a central role in managing a complex process by facilitating reuse and ensuring the consistency and integrity of policies. This is the case with Objective Keyplan in the State of Victoria, Australia, where the system seamlessly distributes updates to dependent parties when changes are made at the source. The adoption of Objective Keyplan in the UK can be a catalyst for streamlining the local planning process and addressing several issues:

  1. Standardisation and Consistency:  The use of digital templates with Objective Keyplan, resolves the issue of inconsistency in local plans. This aligns with DLUHC's recognition of the problem and promotes clarity and efficiency for users.
  2. Nationally-Defined Digital Templates:  We support DLUHC's proposal to create a series of templates, offering standardised approaches to various sections of the plan. The use case of Objective Keyplan across Australia and New Zealand demonstrates the effectiveness of such an approach.
  3. Flexibility and Local Innovation:  Our response recognises the need for flexibility within the templating system, aligning with DLUHC's vision of allowing for local adaptation while maintaining key standards where necessary.

The adoption of digital templating, as demonstrated by the Objective Keyplan system, is a well-aligned and practical solution for addressing DLUHC's requirements. It offers a proven path toward standardisation, transparency, and efficiency in the local planning process while allowing for local flexibility and innovation where needed.

The adoption of digital templating, as demonstrated by the Objective Keyplan system, is a well-aligned and practical solution for addressing DLUHC's requirements.

Freezing of data or evidence

Objective is centred on information management, governance, and version control where all our solutions are designed to preserve the integrity and clarity of evidence throughout the entire process. We understand the necessity of freezing data or evidence at certain points in the process to ensure transparency, auditability, and accountability. This approach is consistent with our commitment to robust information management practices.

With our platform, Objective Keyplan, we enable the creation of immutable snapshots at critical planning stages, ensuring the security and integrity of evidence. Our advanced version control system allows for easy tracking of changes, comparisons between different document versions, and the ability to revert to previous states when needed. Comprehensive audit trails record interactions with documents, promoting transparency and accountability, and acting as a safeguard against unauthorised changes. Our stringent access controls restrict modifications to authorised stakeholders, mitigating the risk of unintended alterations.

Objective supports the freezing of data or evidence at various points in the process, and our approach combines multiple strategies to maintain data integrity and clarity. Our primary focus is on enabling transparent and secure management of information and evidence, ensuring that the impact of any changes is properly assessed and well-documented.

Objective’s approach

Many of the challenges faced today are a legacy from when technology and data usage were in their infancy. Some of the aspects of plan-making have not evolved with technology. In other instances, single-point solutions were adopted but are not interoperable and have resulted in a poor experience all around. Objective's approach leveraging a fit-for-purpose system, Objective Keyplan, offers a practical solution to address DLUHC's requirements and facilitates more effective, user-friendly, and evidence-based local plans that better serve the needs of communities in the UK. The adoption of these proposed changes has the potential to significantly improve the planning process, speed up the adoption of local plans and create a more transparent and efficient system for all stakeholders.

To read Objective's full response to the consultation click here.