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Stantec and University of Reading call for greater use of digital data to support social value in land-use decisions

The partnership launches its Better Places research focusing on delivering better place outcomes through the use of open data at the heart of the planning system


Stantec and University of Reading are calling for greater use of digital data to support the inclusion of social value in strategic decisions around land. In their newly launched Better Places report, they make the case for a National Place Portal where data from multiple sources and datasets can be combined in parallel with community engagement methods.

Better Places builds on proposals in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to establish a modern digital planning system and dives deeper into how standardising, mapping and sharing data would give greater visibility to issues often overlooked in decision-making.

The research highlights how data can enable social value factors to become a more integral part of evaluation, and how digital engagement and mapping could be used to improve engagement and enable better decision making for and on behalf of planning authorities, investors and developers.

Better Places makes the case for a National Place Portal which combines open “passive data”, drawn from existing datasets such as the Census and Index of Multiple Deprivation, with “active data” developed in real time with community input. Where appropriate, data mining and sentiment analytics should also be used to determine what is important to communities, such as Stantec.IO product, CommunityHQ, in parallel with other engagement methods to ensure all members of communities can feed into the process.

This report is the latest outcome of a broader Better Places research programme, an Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Stantec and the University of Reading which aims to make it easier for local authorities, land promoters and developers to include social value in strategic decisions around land.

The UK planning system is under pressure to deliver more for less—build back better, faster, more housing, more jobs, more biodiversity, less carbon, better communities, better value. The pandemic showed how effective digital techniques could be in planning, and digital innovations are now seen by Government, and many practitioners, as providing a route to better planning outcomes.

The focus of Better Places report is the planning system in England but includes best practice from other nations of the UK where relevant.

Keith Mitchell, Director of Transport and Place, Stantec, said: “The UK planning system is faced with a big agenda, and we need to better understand how the use of data can be a force for good in planning. Data gathering, analysing and sharing through open digital maps is key to making informed decisions on the issues that will affect generations. We believe our Better Places research goes one step further in identifying a vision for change.”

Professor Flora Samuel, Professor of Architecture, at University of Reading, said: “A joined up approach to data, digital mapping and planning – one that includes the input of communities - is vitally necessary if we want to make places that work for people and the planet. This report sets out a series of clear steps to make this happen.”

This vision for change has been informed by workshops with stakeholders, eight formal academic interviews with industry experts and case studies showcasing great examples of how community engagement and digital data sharing can help informed decision-making. The principles outlined in Better Places are being tested in a Department for Levelling up, Homes and Communities PropTech funded project, with Quality-of-Life Foundation and supporting the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town DLUHC Digital Land project.

Better Places builds on Places First research, set out in 2018 to propose solutions to deliver better communities, fit for the future. It concluded there is a need to reinvent the way we promote development through the planning process so that it better delivers the conditions for effective planning and delivery of good growth. The 2019 publication proposed how to achieve this through a vision and validate approach to delivering local plans and developments, with Volume 1 and Volume 2 being published in 2020.

About Stantec
Communities are fundamental. Whether around the corner or across the globe, they provide a foundation, a sense of place and of belonging. That's why at Stantec, we always design with community in mind.

We care about the communities we serve—because they're our communities too. This allows us to assess what's needed and connect our expertise, to appreciate nuances and envision what's never been considered, to bring together diverse perspectives so we can collaborate toward a shared success.

We're designers, engineers, scientists, and project managers, innovating together at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. Balancing these priorities results in projects that advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

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