Plantech Week Innovator Showcase at the Future Cities Catapult

Last week I attended the Future Cities Catapult PlanTech Innovator showcase, a programme to bring the planning system into the 21st century, building collaborations between planning authorities and tech companies, to enable them to learn from each other, and leverage the additional value from digital tech and platforms. As anyone who has had to engage in the planning system know, this innovation can’t happen soon enough. For example, in the London Borough of Southwark, 50% of planning applications for house extensions are refused from the outset because they’ve not followed the correct process, not because of their content or design.

From virtual reality, machine coding planning policy, to big data infrastructure platforms, the range of solutions being supported highlight the sheer potential for digitisation of the planning system. As PlanTech embarks on its journey working with eleven innovative companies to bring their products and services to market, three key market signals kept coming up in the discussions;

1. The public sector needs to take an active involvement in investing in this area, which requires building up a certain level of trust. The lead times to scale are not as fast as other sectors, and investors need to be in it for the journey. The public sector has to bring forward just enough cash to invest in these type of experiments, to allow new innovations and tech to come through, and make them and their IP 100% open and accessible for the public good. As one speaker noted, no-one tried to own the IP for the roundabout.

2. An increasing tension between public and proprietary data sets. Many solutions being tested are predicated on certain datasets being kept open for the public good, those who create those data sets seek to leverage their value, and charges creep in under-mining SaaS models. For example, when the Post Office was sold off, the postcode database, a public product was also privatised, and your postcode is now protected by private copyright laws. Dubbed an economy killer, developers now need to pay rent on a previously public database.

3. Who are the customers? We’ve seen the pendulum swing from the singular city platform solution, to the let a 1,000 flowers bloom approach, but local authorities are still not buying from start-ups, and the market place doesn’t want to see another round of pilots. Issues such as air quality are urgent drivers for cities, so we need to see solutions scale, and quickly.

Below is a brief summary of the eleven pitches with links to further information — apologies to any of the innovators if I have misunderstood anything! Do contact them directly for more information, or Stefan Webb at the Future Cities Catapult for more information on the PlanTech programme.

1. by the Ecological Sequestration Trust

Stephen Passmore | @resilienceio |

An open source software solution and platform for integrated planning and resourcing, incorporating agent-based population model simulations, and input and output resource flows. Prototyped for DFID for Accra, Ghana, a city with a population of 4.4m people.

2. B4itsBuilt

Crispin Hoult | @linknode8 |

Professional interactive visualisation tools for the built environment, using live in-situ videos and BIM models, to super-size planning engagement.

3. Scenario — London Borough of Hackney

Scenario planning and social impact assessment tool for the London Borough of Hackney, to test social infrastructure, and the effect of demand on resources and individual services, to feed into the upcoming local plan, and infrastructure delivery plan based on 15 year development projections.

4. GINA by Nautoguide

Dave Barter | @nautoguide |

Current product is Geovey, an interactive map where people can view and comment, share ideas. Now they’re creating an open source predictive mapping tool, where planners can add their data, and get predictions on the public reactions, suggestions on what could work or would be acceptable.

5. ODI Leeds

Paul Connell | @odileeds |

Championing the commitment for organisations to open their datasets, commit to share, and to challenge their objections

6. Our Land App by Placechangers

Sebastian Weise | @placechangers

Develops digital pathways to help automate construction build-out rates based on future land supply, facilitate feedback from residents, to improve the inclusivity, resilience and sustainability of new developments.

7. Podaris

Nathan Koren |

A platform for collaborative urban infrastructure planning, to address the $500bn cost inefficiencies due to infrastructure delays. Creating a single source of truth with all data and tools connected and synchronised with the cloud.

8. Plang

Dusty Gedge |

Development of two alogorithms to digitize a previously manual process, to identify with 80–90% accuracy where green roofs can be supported, and where they exist at the moment.

9. Toolz

Vincent de Boursetty |

Interactive urban planning and development solutions for city planners, urban developers and infrastructure companies. Smart Favela application developed for their Rio de Janeiro prototype, using gaming software to invent new way of planning neighbourhoods

10. Urban Intelligence

Roland Doyle |

Creating the Google for planning policy, bringing together all planning policy, spatial policy designations, etc into one place, because it needs to be done

11. Wikihouse

Alastair Parvin | @wikihouse |

Currently turning the household supplementary planning document for Southwark into a tool that makes planning code machine readable that is human readable. Building up to a 3D design environment where users can have a traffic light system pulling in info they need.