Tom Hartley examines what the recently published Scottish planning review could mean for the use of new technologies in public consultation and the planning process more generally.

One of the key outcomes of the recent “root and branch” review of Scotland’s planning system was a series of recommendations designed to reinforce community consultation as part of the planning application process – and at as early a stage of that process as possible. In particular, the review recommends the creation of an IT task force to look at how information technology could be used to make local development plans more accessible and responsive. This could include much wider use of Geographic Information Systems and 3D visualisations to make consultation with the general public a much more interactive affair. 
The review also recommends the potential strengthening of existing minimum requirements for pre-application consultation. For instance, this could include a new minimum requirement for applicants to host at least two public consultation events so as to provide for more interactive consultation including a greater element of negotiation and feedback than is currently permitted by a single event.
One thing which the review notably discounted was the introduction of third party rights of appeal against planning decisions. The review specifically argues that introducing such a right would add time, complexity and conflict to the planning process and instead recommends improved early engagement.
Taken together, these recommendations suggest an even greater onus being placed in future on good quality, genuine consultation at the earliest stages of the planning process. One of the recommendations explicitly prescribes the use of technology to improve consultation. But with their emphasis on better quality, more interactive consultation, the other recommendations equally point to a greater role in future for those more immersive communication tools enabled by modern technology.

TDigital Story Mapsools such as web maps and story maps can be an incredibly powerful tool for communication and clarity, showing data quickly, clearly and accessibly. They can be used to engage the public face-to-face at public exhibitions or online on project websites. Alongside these public consultation applications, these tools can also enable project team members to share updated project data with one another and with the client – securely and in an accessible format – at each stage of a project’s progress.
With a renewed emphasis on innovative community consultation, the planning review creates new opportunities for the use of these technologies. If used effectively, their wider use will also help developers to avoid serious delays in the planning process through better and earlier engagement with key stakeholders and the general public.
Atmos Consulting has developed a range of mapping tools that can be adapted to suit a wide variety of applications. These include story maps that can provide a project narrative, demonstrate progress and explore points of interest on-site, swipe maps that provide an easy comparison of alternative scenarios in the same space and a project data viewer that provides an interactive web map interface so clients and collaborators can easily explore and analyse key project data.
Contact us today to find out more about the full range of mapping tools Atmos Consulting has to offer and how these can be adapted to meet your specific needs,