As part of our monthly property breakfast roundtable series, we hosted a discussion on “The power of data and technology for sustainable development” in association with Amro Partners. The roundtable was chaired by Abigail Heraty, Development Manager at Amro Partners and Stephen Hole, UK Development Director at Amro Partners.
In this roundtable discussion the focus was on exploring the use of technology and data in the planning and development of sustainable buildings and spaces – ensuring sustainability and ESG are core principles at the start of the property lifecycle.
This discussion brought together PropTechs, developers, planners and landlords to highlight how the power of technology has helped them in their sustainability venture. The discussion also explored how these technologies could be integrated into planning and new developments to make significant and impactful change.
We were joined by a representative from the Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities, and companies such as Avison Young, Quantenergy, New Resource Partners, MPG Consulting, GIA Surveyors, Vu.City, Cityscape Digital, HTA Design, Xera, Landmark Information Group, Knight Frank, LMRE, Argent and Modulous.
To what extent is technology and data being utilised to improve the planning process and public engagement on new developments today? What barriers are being faced in bringing in new technologies into the planning stage?
The group agreed that the Planning sector is particularly slow in adopting technology in comparison to other sectors. This therefore has resulted in several setbacks such as lack of information for residents on upcoming developments, difficulty visualising these developments and essential building data. Despite these setbacks the industry is moving forward and some companies expressed the advantages of using social media and PropTech apps for citizen engagement to drive public engagement. Leveraging these platforms can be useful to reach wider communities as well as a younger audience. The current market of buyers are individuals that actively seek information through social media platforms so being exposed to information regarding planning, future developments amongst others can help them make better buying decisions.
The group also shed light upon the PropTech companies in the industry that have solutions and tools to help with planning processes such as 3D immersive, visualisation tools. Attendees expressed there is a gap between the design concept and delivery due to the lack of incentives for developers that do not operate the building. Visualisation models have been able to help residents and the wider community see what the developments could look like in the context of the local area and ultimately help create openness and mitigate concerns. These tools have also helped local authorities understand and visualise building heights. Despite there still being some hesitation expressed by some local authorities on the usage of these tools, others are more open to it with continuous demonstration of its benefits. Using visualisation models will ultimately help build trust between the local authorities/developers and the residents as they are able to be a part of the process and see the developments in a similar perspective.
One common challenge the group agreed on was the lack of encouragement surrounding data sharing and availability. Attendees expressed there is a general unwillingness to be transparent about the source of the data and how this data will be used further. This creates an environment of hesitation amongst companies/individuals making them less likely to trust and contribute towards creating data sets. Willingness to share data and the transparency about its source is key to creating standardised data sets that is easily available and can be widely used within the industry to drive engagement and build relationships within the community.
Another challenge expressed by the participants was the everchanging political environment that has made it difficult to push through any technological adoptions. Processes as such require building a relationship and trust and with the changing authorities it can be difficult to do so which in turn impacts the entire life cycle and time taken to bring in new solutions.
How is the sustainability agenda influencing planning stage design?
Some attendees expressed the increased rate of influence residents are having on plans made by developers as the residents are now asking for building data such as EPC ratings. Attendees also expressed concern over whether the current laws in London and the UK as a whole regarding carbon emission and sustainability might be too restrictive in comparison to other cities and countries around the world. In order for these sustainability agendas to be met decisions needs to be made in the early stages of planning. As there is still data lacking on how these decisions can be made and what a sustainable building looks like, despite the availability of fundings, companies aren’t aware on how and where to utilise the funds. The group also raised questions on how data can be used to inform home owners and tenants that their home is BREAM certified and educate them on what this mean for them in order to bring them into the conversation. Attendees also expressed during the developmental and planning stages when carbon output is considered, the focus tends to be on embodied carbon rather than operation carbon. The focus needs to shift to include both in order for a building to be considered fully sustainable and ultimately meeting the sustainability goals. The group shed light upon the benefits of modular housing and how design tends to be more accurate with offsite manufacturing. Modular housing can help with reduced carbon emissions, faster delivery and being more adaptable to use.
How can data be utilised to better inform planning on an individual, local and national level?
In order for data to be utilised, it needs to be more reliable. The participants agreed that the data available needs to be made more accessible and the industry needs to come together on creating a level of transparency in order to encourage data sharing. A common point raised amongst the group was the importance of understanding tenant behaviour which can help in gathering data about buildings and how they are being used. A suggestion made within the group to make the process of collecting this data easier, was through the use of sensors in buildings. As this is a newer concept it is still being tested for accuracy but can ultimately aid with future planning, sustainability and to draw an overall picture of how the building functions. Data gathered through social media platforms and other marketing efforts can also then be used to gather insights that can be fed back into the policy to help with planning.
The group covered a few different topics and there were several interesting points raised by all attendees however there were a few common themes that were brought up:
- Social media can be a useful tool to drive engagement although there is still hesitation from local authorities and developers due to the risks of a snowball of negative feedback, which could potentially slow down the process.
- Due to the lack of transparency surrounding data sources and it’s usage, there is unwillingness to share data therefore making it difficult to find and access reliable data that can be used during the planning stages.
- 3D visualisation models will be helpful to reach out to residents and build a level of trust but education and support with local authorities to trust these models is still needed.
- Tenants are driving the sustainability agenda, in addition to government initiatives, by asking for more building information.
- Decisions need to be made in the early stages of planning in order to achieve sustainability goals.
- Educating tenants on how a building functions and the way it can be utilised to its full potential is important. It is also important to simultaneously educate developers on how they can then use technology to gather this data to encourage use in the planning stage.
- Through the use of technology and data, there is potential to influence policy on how developments should look like rather than the contrary of policy informing how developments and areas must look like.
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