#Plantech — working towards a 3D model of London

Smart London
Jan 8, 2019 · 4 min read

Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell outlines another digital planning initiative at City Hall and makes a *call for interested parties* to get in touch (see bottom)

Many long hours are spent by developers, local authority planners and architects with civic groups and residents to understand how proposed developments might impact lives and amenity. The tools used to do this remains really quite traditional — paper, models and presentations.

As part of our work around the digital transformation of planning, we’ve been considering next steps to use data to visualise development. Would a 3D model showing proposed developments increase understanding of their impacts with planners and citizens during the design phase? Will it support how communities understand and help shape development?

Current 3D Modelling Background

The 3D modelling market is a rapidly developing area, just by way of summary, there are a number of relevant developments in the field. There are now numerous products that use the same data, but provide different tools to access and develop it. These include VU.CITY which has been widely adopted by London Boroughs and is being trialed by the GLA, and Zmapping, which is attempting to access this market sector using a gaming interface. Other suppliers are starting to access this area of the market.

Future Cities Catapult is leading the way with thinking about open data for London.

‘Legacy’ systems suppliers in the field of planning have been developing ways to address the move to 3D modelling, however limited movement has yet been delivered, Northgate have developed a 3D platform for Jersey where applicants can drop on their pre-apps and applications. We are monitoring the effectiveness of this work.

Milton Keynes have been leading on a project which implements AI in planning. This is still in its early stages, but we are monitoring its progress and are keen to see and learn from the successes of this project.

We are still learning about what other people are doing in this field, but in practice this is still a growth area, with London having the opportunity to lead the way in Europe and setting the standard which others can follow.

Call for interested parties

The GLA will be launching an area of work shortly to understand what technology is available to deliver a 3D model free at the point of use for Londoners.

The aim of this work is to:

  1. Understand how 3D modelling can be used to change how we understand the impacts of proposed developments both as residents and as professionals, and how it changes the decisions we make; and
  2. Find the best solutions for Londoners how they can consume and engage this information whether through web tools, mobile apps, in Borough Offices or some other medium; and
  3. Begin to understand the best ways to do this as part of our wider digital planning transformation work.

A number of cities around the world are now publishing free online maps with limited 3D data, which enables residents to view proposed developments in simplistic shape format.

A 3D model of Helsinki

To list a few:

  • Melbourne, AU — which enables residents to understand what major development activity has been considered, consented, and under construction in the Melbourne Local Government Area
  • Cambridge, M.A. US — enables sun scans to understand how developments will impact in a simple form daylight and sunlight
  • Helsinki, FIN — provides a full detailed rendered model of the city enabling residents to consider developments

Open data is becoming central to how the public sector is stimulating new areas of innovation. With this freely available data, the market can i find new ways to use it. Whilst the concept is not new, obtaining and publishing 3D data of cities is new.

Cities leading the way on this include:

  • Zurich — which has published all data up to its city limits
  • Helsinki — which has broad coverage of its entire urban area

The impact of opening up this data is yet to be fully assessed, but it is anticipated that it will lead to new innovations in this field, and 3D models of all planning applications being the standard.

We want to hear from you if:

You are a provider working in this field who is keen to promote solutions for London

You work for a Local Planning Authority who is keen to participate in this learning journey we are going to go on

You work in the private sector in the planning or development sector and are keen to participate in this project.

How is it going to work?

Given there are so many unknown aspects to this project, it will be a learning opportunity to understand what will drive change in the planning, and the art of the possible.

Once we know who wants to be involved in this journey we will put together a plan to work through options for a solution.

Core Principles

There are a number core principles applicable to this project:

  1. The end product will be free at the point of use to Londoners
  2. There will be an agreed financial model for the funding and ongoing maintenance of the product
  3. Models added will need to be open source data, available to all other product providers


This project is in its formative stages, if you would like to register an interest in the project, or discuss how you can be involved, please drop me an email on peter.kemp@london.gov.uk

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