An examination of the aggregation of planning application information

We’re starting the new year in the best way possible — with a new project that we’re really excited to get our teeth into.

Just before we all went off for the Christmas holidays, we learned that mySociety had won the contract to work on the Discovery and Alpha phases of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)’s Central Register of Planning Permissions. To put it simply, this is the first couple of steps towards an eventual plan to aggregate and share, as Open Data, information on residential planning applications from councils across England.

Those who have followed mySociety for some time may remember that we have some experience in this area: we’ve previously worked around planning permissions with authorities in Barnet and Hampshire.  More widely, many of our projects involve taking data from a range of different sources, tidying it up and putting it out into the world as consistent, structured Open Data that anyone can use. The most ambitious of these is EveryPolitician; the most recent is Keep It In The Community, and in both cases we suspect the issues — data in a variety of different formats and of widely differing qualities, being stored in many different places — will be broadly the same when it comes to planning permissions.

But we don’t know exactly that for sure, and neither does MHCLG, which is why they’re very sensibly getting us to kick off with this period of research, testing and trying out proofs of concept. With work that will involve our developers, design team, consultation with experts in the field and collaboration with MHCLG, we’re right in our happy place.

Best of all, the project ticks a lot of mySociety boxes. The eventual Open Data set that should come out of all this will:

  • Help central government utilise digital to best effect: once this dataset exists, they’ll be able to develop tools that support the planning system and housing markets
  • Aid local authorities in keeping consistent and useful data on their own planning applications, allowing them to analyse trends and plan wisely for the future
  • Benefit the building industry as well as local residents as they have access to information on which applications have previously succeeded or failed in their own areas
  • Be open to developers, who — as history tends to show —  may use it create useful third party tools beyond the imagination of government itself.

This project is one of a number of pieces of work we’ll be doing with central and local government this year. With all of these, we’re committing to working in the open, so expect plenty of updates along the way.

Image: Rawpixel

6 Comments

  1. I am the Identity Product Owner at Sitekit and I would welcome the opportunity to get involved in the research, testing and proof of concept aspects of your initial engagement.

  2. Interesting.
    I’m regularly checking on details available at Central Bedfordshire Council for plans affecting my town. We’re in line for a lot of planning applications over the next 15 years which could see 10,000 new homes being built in our parish. The basic details are then fed into a Planning Applications Facebook Group where those that are interested can find links to the online plans. I tend to leave out minor household planning applications. In addition, I plot the sites on a Google Map with a few details and pertinent links. The Council, too, uses a mapping system of its own which is publicly accessible, and links to plans are available. (my.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/mycentralbeds.aspx)

    • Thanks Alan, that’s very interesting. Is there any chance you could share an example of how you’ve plotted these on a Google Map? I’d love to see it. You can reach me at mike [at] mysociety.org. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment Martin. Yes, we know the excellent PlanIt.org.uk and are hoping to talk to Andrew very soon about how we might be able to help each other.

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