At Objective, we’ve been on a Digital Planning journey for years and welcome the provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (LURA) that will make digital a reality for so many local authorities. The modernisation of the planning system, the introduction of a new-style (Digital) Local Plans and faster Development approvals are all areas that we have invested in with our solutions, Objective Keyplan and Objective Trapeze.

It’s therefore no surprise that Digital Planning is something we spoke about in detail at the National Planning Conference, both on and off stage. The conference was a great opportunity to exchange ideas with Chief Planners, local authority planning professionals and everyone else involved in this forward-thinking industry. No wonder it’s sometimes known as ‘forward planning’!

Here are some of our highlights...

Victoria Hill, Chief Executive of the RTPI and Sarah Chilcott Managing
Director at the Planning Portal opened the conference with a welcome
speech, with Victoria announcing "Now is the time for planning to rise
up and take its rightful place in the heart of government, at the heart
of local government, and at the heart of communities" (see RTPI blog).

The now Ex-Minister of State for Housing & Planning, Rachel MacLean,
delivered a keynote that outlined the extensive reform programme being
introduced following the passage of the Act. With a focus on
streamlining, digitising, reducing red tape and ensuring more homes get
built in the right places, the Minister spoke of initiatives being put
in place to support the planning profession, with increased resources
and support for local planning departments.

Keyplan NPC 2023

Levelling up your plan!

Rafael Garcia, took to the stage to deliver Objective’s keynote: ‘Levelling up your plan’.

The session focused on three key themes:

  1. The role of digital in supporting ambitious planning targets
  2. Overall benefits to planning teams and communities
  3. Whether digital planning can become a reality, one local plan at a time

    Before focusing on the future, Rafael briefly took us through a few events that punctuated the last 12 months:

    • The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was introduced, accompanied by a reality check: many local authorities didn’t (and still don’t) have an up-to-date local plan;
    • The planning profession is undergoing an extreme shortage of staff and digital is here to stay… but accompanying skills are in high demand, as called out by RTPI President Sue Bridge at last year’s closing remarks;
    • We at Objective published a whitepaper titled ‘The Future of Digital Planning’, drafted in consultation with UK planning experts
    • And Chief Planners (or delegated representatives) from each UK nation talked about digital being at the centre of planning reform

    Now that the past has been covered, what does the future look like? Is it possible to do 30-month plans?

    The catalyst for change is often legislation and we widely welcome the LURA which creates much-needed powers that will enable us to push ahead with digital planning.

    Take the provisions regarding data standards, for example. This is the obvious missing piece of the puzzle to enable multiple systems talking to each other, a big win for local authorities and their customers. There are many other benefits to be realised, including the concept of approved providers, digital templates, geospatial policies and frequent review cycles – all elements essential to enabling authorities to deliver new-style Local Plans.

    We know that everyone appreciates the value of up-to-date local plans in our plan-led system, but ‘what do we really mean by Digital Local Plans?’

    And is it possible to achieve these new-style local plans in the 30 months set-out by central government?

    The keynote highlighted some of the areas where efficiencies can be realised in the planning policy process, including managing planning policies as data from the start, and making them machine-readable all the way through.

    In 2022, we officially announced Objective Keyplan, a solution that  would support the end-to-end planning policy process. Now in 2023, Rafael concluded the keynote showcasing how Objective Keyplan is adopted by local authority customers across the UK to help realise efficiencies in the planning policy process, whilst minimising the cost and pain of actioning thousands of representations; a topic Objective expanded on in the afternoon’s session.

    Delivering on Digital Data

    Objective’s Jessica Oates and Jim Fretwell took to the stage for the ‘Delivering on Digital and Data’ track, as they showed how new-style Local Plans can become a reality with the support of purpose-built solutions, such as Objective Keyplan.

    Jess acknowledged many of the challenges that local planning authorities are facing, highlighting:

    • A £5bn black hole in UK Local Authority budgets;
    • 58% of councils are struggling to recruit planning officers; and
    • A quarter of planners left the public sector in recent years.

      At a time where planners are having to do more with less resource, and now even less time, she commented on how the reality of delivering new-style local plans that are more engaging, simpler to understand and map-based, brings numerous benefits, but with a 30-month deadline and ongoing resourcing issues, also brings challenges.

      To unlock efficiencies in the planning process, saving money and more importantly time, Jess and Jim highlighted the savings that could be realised via Objective Keyplan, which can be calculated using the recently-launched ROI Savings Calculator.

      Jim then wrapped up the session with an exciting demo that showed how digital planning can become a reality with Objective Keyplan, covering:

      • AI efficiencies
      • Policy as data
      • Geospatial enablement
      • Streamlined consultations
      National Planning Conference Jessica Oates

      Recently launched to its UK customer base, they shared early adopter Wiltshire Council’s comments on Keyplan:

      To have a one-stop shop that does all is what you're getting with this product. It just makes it seamless

      Plan-making across all UK Nations

      Another highly-anticipated session was the panel made up of all the Chief Planners from the UK home nations.

      Planning reform is undoubtedly top of the agenda in each nation. This session gave an exclusive insight into the mindset and vision of planning leadership across the UK, discussing updates on planning reform approaches in each nation, with a focus on how digital technologies are transforming the way we engage with, and participate in, planning.

      During the panel discussion, the Chief Planners reiterated how important it is to have a plan in place, with recognition that Local Plans are at the heart of our plan-led system and that government must leverage technology to realise efficiencies.

      Well done once again to the Planning Portal and the Royal Town Planning Institute for hosting another engaging and insightful conference. We came away with so many key takeaways but here are our top three…

      Three key takeaways:

      1. Planning reform is happening in all UK nations;
      2. Local development plans underpin this transformation; and
      3. Digital is here to stay, with massive opportunities for efficiency and a better experience overall, notwithstanding Digital Local Plans!

      Objective Keyplan is a complete solution for Local Planning Authorities to easily manage the researching, drafting and adopting of plans, policy and strategy documents. Find out more information here.

      Alternately, get in touch to discuss how it can help to drive efficiencies across your authority’s planning policy process, or complete the online Objective Keyplan Savings Calculator.