One of the few proposals to be brought forward in the 2020 Planning White Paper (“Planning for the future”) is the allocation of money from the PropTech Engagement Fund to local planning authorities to be spent on 3D modelling, virtual reality and other high-tech measures. The aim is to encourage members of the public to be more engaged in the planning process and to enable them to visualise proposed development in their area. 

On 21 March 2022 the Government announced over £3.25million to be spent on 28 projects in local authorities across the country.  It follows on from the initial pilot scheme that came to an end in the same month.

Developers of large projects have previously utilised 3D models and CGIs to enable officers, planning committee members, inspectors and members of the public to visualise the proposed development in its context and they are very helpful tools.  The intention of this Government initiative is therefore to be welcomed. However, there is concern around how far the £3.25million will go given local planning authorities’ IT systems may need upgrading before they can utilise high tech measures. They may also need ongoing tech support to ensure the high-tech projects are updated each time planning applications are submitted.  

What will be shown on outline applications where parameter plans set out the maximum built envelope, with the detail on scale and appearance coming forward under reserved matters? What about developments on or near a borough boundary? The impacts of a development don’t just stop at a borough boundary: High-tech measures will only be as good as the information they contain.

Given virtual reality is such a fast-developing area, ongoing funding to maintain the measures will be key. Developers are already concerned that planning application fees may be increased to secure additional funding for these projects. Many would prefer the money to be spent on improving existing local authority resources which have taken a battering in recent years. 

The proposals are commendable, but it’s the type of project that needs 100% commitment and take-up from local authorities to truly see the benefits.  A half-baked project (for instance, 3D modelling that is not up to date or does not show developments in adjacent boroughs) is likely to be more damaging to the public’s involvement in the planning process.