Blog, master planning

Leveraging developer contributions to create healthier places

Since mid last year, here at PlaceChangers we have been working on a research and development project supported by InnovateUK, the UK Government's Innovation Agency. The project aimed at helping developers incorporate health and wellbeing considerations into their projects at an early design stage.

Incorporating health and wellbeing at an early stage can be maximised if the proposed outcomes for local improvements can be aligned with the development project. This is where developer contributions come to play. While the majority of contributions enables affordable housing provision, increasingly contributions are also used towards improving education and health provision locally. 

In this article, we provide an overview of the use of developer contributions at the moment, what the issues are, and how we help overcome the problems we found with better insights. For this PlaceChangers helps to fill these gaps with ability to facilitate citizen engagement for Developers and local authorities in determining the better outcomes for all parties. This is especially relevant when Developers have regulatory and fiduciary requirements placed upon them in the development process.

What are developer contributions?

When a new development is proposed it is important to take account of the broader impacts this will have within a community. For instance, a new housing project will result in an increase in the local resident population. Depending on the demographic of these new neighbours, new education or health facilities may be required. There is also a need to consider what employment opportunities exist for workers amongst the new population or the transport infrastructure that is needed if the working population goes somewhere else during the day.

These are important considerations for UK Developers given the Community Infrastructure Levy and S106 payments. These are collectively referred to as Developer contributions. They are mechanisms that secure payments either in kind or money from larger construction projects to assist in addressing impacts from new developments within communities. Contributions can range from school facilities, new built and natural infrastructure as well as delivering on affordable housing commitments.

According to the PAS guidance, both types of developer contributions deliver the same outcome but do so in different ways:

S106 contributions

Community Infrastructure Levy contributions

The S106 payment is a mechanism for negotiation between Developers and the council about payments or required actions that are specific to a development project.

S106 agreements were introduced with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 in England. Therefore, S106 is particularly useful in enabling developments that may otherwise not have been acceptable.

CIL, on the other hand, is a compulsory and defined payment that needs to be paid.  The levy is charged on the basis of floor space and the planned usage of the new spaces. Furthermore, CIL is intended to compensate for the overall impact of development, not for the impacts of a specific development. 

By end of 2019, about half of English local authorities had a CIL in place.

What are Developer contributions used for?

Analysis of these contributions for 2018-19 confirms that the value of developer contributions was significant. For England, Developers paid GBP 7 billion. 

In absolute terms: 

  • The vast majority (67%) of contributions were made for affordable housing.  
  • 12% was collected as general Community Infrastructure Levy payments. 
  • 6% were education contributions.

In terms of 'tending' categories that saw largest increase:

  • The largest spent increases were for transport (110%), followed by education (70%), and open spaces (26%).
  • Category 'other' increased by 240% to address the demand for health care

Developer contributions are therefore important to fund social infrastructure locally. They can be used to support health and well-being as well as to contribute a built environment suitable to a wider group of people.

For instance, contributions help with:

  • New affordable housing is made possible through developer contributions. 48% of affordable housing in 2018/19 was delivered through contribution payments. Affordable housing is often developed by the main contractor and then purchased by social registered providers, who provide ongoing management and maintenance services.
  • The new build or relocation of existing health facilities. They can also fund new infrastructure that is significant to health, such as green space, pedestrian walkways, cycle lanes, and safe accessible places for people to gather.

Some common problems relating to use of contribution payments

Local governments apply contributions very differently

Under the current system in the U.K., as part of the bespoke negotiation process, Developer S106 contributions can be applied with flexibility. 

However, as Inside Housing noted, this also means that “council policies and practices on Developer contributions are “highly inconsistent” across the country. They also noted that there is limited transparency and public engagement.” Payments are very uneven across England. A staggering, 53% of developer payments were made in London or the south-east!

There is a lack of guiding standards or common evidence cases to determine best practice contributions. There are few formal triggers for specific contributions.

Mismatch between what is negotiated and what is provided

Often as a result of limited evidence, engagement, or understanding of what is immediately useful to the local community; or due to mismatches in the timing of payments and delivery of any interventions, there can often be an issue in ensuring that communities actually receive the amenities they require. 

From Developers' point of view, at times, there are also issues if contribution payments are effectively used on areas not near the development project. This will be particularly common with CIL payments, which are not used for site-specific investments. 

S106 contributions

Community Infrastructure Levy contributions

In terms of S106 contributions, there is a very clear link between the development and what the contributions can be spent on.

For CIL contributions, this link is often weaker which can lead to arguments between Developers and authorities.  Councils often have to build a strong evidence base and apply specific criteria on how the receipts can be disbursed.  According to PAS, 85% of the contribution needs to be invested in infrastructure projects. However, those works may not be required to be close to the development that is causing the identified impacts.

Viability and S106 contributions

One of the issues raised with respect to S106 contributions is whether there is an unrealistic push for affordable housing that is difficult to deliver. This use is often subjective especially when the expected profit goes below 20% of the investments for the development. 

Manchester is a case in point: The lack of contributions for new development is particularly controversial when there was a building boom and property prices were rising. 

A recent report found that only 6% of development applications had a contribution for affordable housing. This was in contrast to the vast sums that were invested on prime city centre estates. At about £74 million per site, to total across 79 sites analysed in this study gives a total of £5.85 billion investment.

However, bold outcomes can also be achieved, as demonstrated in the new Mayfield development in Manchester, which will also provide Manchester's first new park in 100 years, which represents a significant contribution on site, which reduces developer contributions otherwise. 

Making the most of Developer contributions

There’s a number of ways Developer contributions can be used better, especially if aligned with the needs in the local area, and productive for the new development, too.  

Identifying investments with better neighbourhood insights 

Effectively, whether it is CIL or S106 payments that are collected, any receipts need to be based on well-founded local data that clearly demonstrate investment needs and priorities in the area. If a local authority fails to provide that evidence or the data is out of date, it will have a much poorer opportunity to properly work with Developers in securing mutually beneficial outcomes.

As a consequence, the opportunity for long-term improvement of the wider area will be missed. This can be overcome with readily structured evidence, around needs for local provision based on capacity shortfalls or lack of key provision. 

Garnering support with improved community engagement

Developer contributions are generally discussed when it comes to making a planning application, which is especially true for project-specific contributions (such as S106). Local councils provide an annual report and all payments are publicly listed.

However, payments and the benefits of CIL and S106 should be included in the discussions with residents as well.

Early engagement provides an opportunity to prioritise the use of the receipts for improvements in the local area. Secondly, these payments are a benefit of new development locally, and can be an aid to local residents being more open to the idea of new development close to their doorstep.

Maximising investments with better coordination of contribution schedules

As the 20-minute neighbourhood report has shown, in any new development, especially at edge-of-town locations, it’s crucial that there is good coordination in place when it comes to the engagement,  prioritisation and allocation of social infrastructure, that need to be funded from multiple contributions. 

Social infrastructure needs to be planned early in the development cycle. It is dependent on the land and funds being available at the time of the development. It also needs organisations to be in place to take ownership and deliver. on the outcomes.

Communicating the positive outcomes

Another aspect that developers can benefit from and do better relates to capturing and communicating the benefits of their contributions payments. Understanding how contributions performed across a portfolio and in different contexts will substantially improve insights into best uses of developer contributions, and will be a clear talking point to more conscientious buyers.   

Deliver or plan in social amenities on site

Providing facilities or social amenities on site is perhaps the best way for developers to influence part of the development contributions! If a local playground is required within a certain walking distance, and there is none, providing one on site is a great way to work towards local needs, while also raising the credentials of the development itself. 

So what? 

Developer contributions are essential for funding new infrastructure. However, often Developer contributions are not used or explained in the best possible way. 

Better and early citizen engagement on local environments and their requirements will ensure better outcomes for everyone involved in new development. 

Easy-to-access evidence on local provision of key social assets, but also detail on the health and wellbeing of the local population makes it easier for developers and local councils to negotiate to maximise investments.  

Investments will ideally be tied back to purposeful outcomes that translate into benefits to current and future residents, such as that better cycling infrastructure can offer an easier, safer, and more convenient neighbourhood environment. 


At PlaceChangers, we build best-in-class digital tools that provide you with powerful neighbourhood insights that help shape your planning application. To learn more or see a demo, get in touch today. 

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3D visualisation, Blog

3D Models in Detail: Architectural models in public engagement


This third part of this series on the role of 3D models in public consultations considers architectural models authored by architects in dedicated architecture modelling software.  Unlike previous methods explored in part two (which focus on recreating environment models from photos), architecture models directly draw on  ‘Building Information Modelling (BIM) procedures.

Effective public consultations are increasingly important to any construction project. 3D models can help communicate a greater level of understanding of the proposed project, in terms of size, proportions, and in relation to the building context. Most architecture projects now draw digital models via BIM software, like Autodesk Revit, which overlays visual data with textual data. These models can be converted into a matter of different files (REV, IFC, obj, fbx), as so to share 3D renders with different characteristics. 

This article looks at the tools and services available for organisations who want to share a 3D architectural model in a public consultation. We need to understand the different stages of a 3D model that can be used for public engagement and then which elements of this model benefit these consultations. The article also provides comments on the advantages and disadvantages of using such services for citizen engagement in the consultative process.

Using Architectural 3D Models within Consultations

Today a design team can easily create, organise and delegate sophisticated architectural models amongst team members through BIM tools, such as AutoDesk Revit, VectorWorks, and others. Increasingly, these tools allow the project team to convert those models into other kinds of formats where they become visible, in views, or even on maps, so they can easily be shared with clients and other stakeholders for assessment and approval. 3D architecture and modelling, especially on online platforms in the future, enables anybody to influence designs in a shared and data-driven environment.

Architectural models vary and they gain in technical and visual detail over time. As part of the design process, there are three key formats for these models, which are outlined below. Each format is useful for different kinds of stakeholder engagement.  In the UK, the RIBA Plan of Work outlines the stages and the general information requirements for each stage from a digital model. This helps identify the detail needed to explain aspects of the project development to the public. The RIBA Stages can be aligned into stages of the project’s design as follows:

RIBA Stage

Concept design

Spatial coordination

Technical design


This stage sets the Architectural Concept for a project. The proposals that align with the Site Information and the Project Brief, including the Spatial Requirements, are prepared. 

This stage revolves around the testing and validation of the architectural concept.
The detailed design studies and engineering analysis are undertaken to ratify the assumptions made during the conceptual design and to layer more detail onto the design.

Stage 4 involves the preparation of all information required to manufacture and construct a building. 

3D model

Conceptual models

Working models

Presentation models

Level of detail (LoD)




Exploring the use of a 3D Model for public engagement requires identification of the audience and the purpose of the consultation. Along the design process, we have different kinds of 3D models developed to different degrees of detail, including conceptual models, working models, and presentation models. 

Conceptual Models

used in a consultation with the public at the beginning of the design. A 3D model might present the current design with blocks and use current details of the existing environment to better help the public to understand how the perspective building might work in the area better.

Working Models: 

this type would be used while aspects of the design are still being deliberated. This shares potential design decisions with the rest of the community for valuable criticism. The model might not be textured, as certain decisions are made on its external aesthetics. 

Presentation Models: 

these models are used for presentation at the end of the project's development. These will usually be created for larger buildings that function in a social setting (i.e music venue, university building.) This model would be fully rendered with the completed design having textured externals.

Advantages of a architectural models in public consultations

Unlike a photogrammetric based model [see Part 2] designing a model from the ground up means that more visual information is available then just the external aesthetic detail. An architectural model can be viewed in numerous ways, depending on the stage of the project and how advanced the project building is. 

The advantages of a 3D Model can be but restricted to:

  • Informational detail can be provided and customised
  • The model can be animated for walk arounds
  • Designs can be tested for environmental factors
  • Details on specific objects can be provided

Informational detail can be provided and customised

Unlike a photogrammetric 3D model, an architectural working model goes beyond presenting the external shell of the ongoing project development’s plan. Details regarding the internal layout isf observable by adjusting the levels on view within the model. This means the various floors, rooms, facilities are visually available to view and measure (useful for the spatial checks.) This acts as a blueprint that users can engage, observe and query.

What this presents is the geometries of the model. Unlike the photogrammetric model the project team has worked to coordinate the geometries and attributes of the future model. Specifically, BIM geometries contain the physical and logical characteristics of the built environment and so it is able to present the internal outlay of the building. 

This is not restricted to the physical levels/floors as the 3D building can be organized in a multitude of ways and might present different layers such as:

  • Overview / Building - a layer that allows you to view the 3D building as a single layer. The externals acting as a shell, with the building separating into different layers. 
  • Discipline / profession - a layer that presents the different work disciplines of a building, such as architectural, structural, mechanical, plumbing, or electrical.
  • Category / Bim Objects - individual categories of objects, such as windows or walls, organized into viewable parts of the model.
  •  Optional Filter - Filters allow you to view specific details in a building and split it into individual elements of the complex models. With the optional filter, you can choose to show only elements with specific attributes as solid or show others in wireframe mode. 

The model can be animated for walk arounds

It can be difficult for the public to understand a perspective building with the standard views. Being able to alter the camera, as so, to put the public virtually into the building, allows the public to understand how the structure will be laid out in the future.

The 3D Model’s Camera can be used in a multitude of ways. It has evolved from a birds eye / 360 degree view to one that can be placed within the model. This can allow stakeholders to walk through the model at that moment. 

As the project continues through its timeline the more intricate details will be accessible (such as furniture) but a working model will provide information regarding the area layout. 

Designs can be tested for environmental factors

How a building takes in natural light and balances the external environment’s access to light is important. So important in fact that it can affect a project if there is a dispute regarding loss of sunlight and loss of privacy for others in the area. Using the 3D modeling software the architectural model can represent the light and the impact the building has on nearby establishments. 

The simulation software enables architects and designers to choose the most appropriate system design for their energy and lighting needs by "playing" with different product specification options and the structure area. 

Careful design of the access and use of daylight within a building is one of the most fundamental ways to ensure a building maximizes its environmental performance. By designing a building ‘envelope’ (data regarding aspects of the building) to allow adequate levels of daylight to the building interior, demand for artificial lighting and electricity consumption can be reduced. This can lead to better selection and orientation of products that can also reduce the need for heating, cooling, and artificial ventilation.

Specific Environmental Details

Lastly, the architectural model can present specific design elements that can be highlighted for users and stakeholders on the model. Architects can avoid their work being presented in a utilitarian style by adding more focus to the environment, colour, or function of a model.  

For example, landscaping architecture has greatly benefitted by the introduction of BIM. In 2015 the Landscape Architect Lauren Schmidt addressed its use (click here for the full article.) Landscape architecture sits between the work of an architect and a civil engineer, working with slopes and drainage plans within the building project. “That can be challenging” she notes,  “we’re trying to control ‘in-between’ spaces like thresholds, entryways, retaining walls, and sidewalks, so we want to work with the models of architects and civil engineers as early as possible.” The landscape architect is not only benefiting from accurate information from other project teams but can also implement their own design choices into the model. Installing trees allows information such as - its scientific name, root size, condition, and install height provided in the model. But, it allows other stakeholders visual information on the external presentation of the building including, green area, trees, pathways (i.e. accessibility.)


This is useful within public consultations because it can create a heuristic environment for individuals to observe. Seeing trees appear communicates their scale and size better than outlines of a map. This might draw attention to the details that conceptualise the project, and as projects bring more focus to sustainability, health and social building - this is important as it implements the details that bring these ideas together. 

Disadvantages of using a Architectural 3D Model

The 3D architectural models that are created by the architect, and/or as part of a major capital project can be impressive and highly realistic. 

Keep it simple

In the preparation of models for 3D visualisation, as in other cases, especially at an early stage, it’s key to remember that the simpler the tool the better, as this can cut down on the cost of key personnel. In an early stage, full-blown architectural tools like Revit are generally too fully featured for the kind of simple models required at the beginning of a design process (e.g. conceptual models or volumetric models). Tools like SketchUp are better suited as they have a lower learning curve and can be an aid to test options quickly. In some cases, at least in terms of engagement, simpler model making workshops can even go a long way to get people to engage in the creative generation of site options. 

Linking to BIM

Understanding the greater benefits of BIM earlier on within the project development can help a seamless transition throughout the project of work. It is quite the same for the communication strategy with external stakeholders and the public, as it presents to everyone that there was a clear understanding of the project's place within the environment as it currently stands. These detailed models can have disadvantages in terms of engagement if they appear too polished. Participants may be unsure what kinds of changes are still in scope for decisions to be made. This may lead to criticisms of the consultation being ‘only for show’.

On the plus side the advantage of this data treasure trove is that it can be used throughout the buildings life cycle, for future maintenance as every part of the construction is logged within a digital archive. 

Variety and limitations of views

There’s also a limitation in terms of presentation methods for digital models. A planner may be a reliant on architects sharing not just the model but also the platform required to view them in a meaningful manner. Revit models, exported as REV, hold textual and geometrical data. These files are not always going to be fully supported, due to the amount of information they might have. Certain viewers are accessible, and only they are able to provide certain information. Increasingly, tools such as TwinView can be used to tap into the architectural model directly to provide high quality digital renders. 


Architectural 3D Models are increasingly becoming a key in reaching clients and stakeholders, especially as the UK continues to be wary of in person demonstrations. 

Digital platforms are more widely used in exploring master plans, and as digital technologies become the norm so will integrating 3D models into digital public consultations. As this is expected to provide a rounded understanding of the building development on the part of an external stakeholder (such as the public.)

There is a significant benefit to using an architectural 3D model. It provides additional details that might have previously been overlooked in traditional consultation methods. Aspects of the model, such as the natural and artificial lighting can be demonstrated via projecting light through the model. Specialised projects which focus on specific environmental details can be emphasised to stakeholders who might usually only be given images, maps, and non interactive models. This helps those mediating the public consultation engage with the public with a level of confidence, as there are more notable visuals that provide a deeper understanding of the construction even before its physical completion.  Use of architectural 3D models provides one such method for clear communication with stakeholders. 

Nevertheless, there are still barriers in the use of these models. Architectural 3D modelling is highly coveted within the profession, as practices become more digitally agile. This means that acquiring a 3D Model, or implementing BIM may result in upfront costs to the project and additionally require time to create the databases needed for the lifecycle of the future building. However the benefits far outweigh these costs. 


Send us your thoughts or get in touch for advice on using 3D visualisations in public engagement.

About Megan

Megan Marie Doherty is completing a PhD at Northumbria University on the ‘Design and Evaluation of Building Information Modelling capabilities for public consultation in urban planning and master planning’. Megan Doherty has a background in public engagement from previous roles in media and heritage organisations.

You can follow Megan here:  @m3ganmdoherty 

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Local people invited to review designs for affordable housing for Crook, County Durham


Community-led housing is a growing movement of normal people taking action and managing housing projects that build decent and affordable homes that the country so desperately needs. Community-Led Housing has been ongoing across the country for many years and has more recently gathered pace and interest across the North East and Durham.

In 2018, the government made available £163 million across England up to 2020 through the Community Housing Fund to enable organisations to move forward and take projects through to the planning stage. Since May 2019, Crook Community Leisure has been working with Durham County Council to seek opportunities to develop their own community-led housing scheme. 

Community-led housing on land north of Crook Leisure Centre

Working with the design team, the Trustees of Crook Community Leisure have worked up plans for this project with members of the community, Changing Step, and tenants. It is envisaged that the homes will have veterans first, disabled and members of the community looking to move into these rental, affordable homes.

Based on an initial housing needs survey, a range of affordable rental accommodation is proposed. Most houses meet the Building Regulation Standards Part M2(4) and the Lifetime Homes standards, meaning they are accessible and adaptable for changing lifestyles and suitable for families or elderly occupants. 

The project also includes a strong landscape plan, including a community orchard and garden, wheelchair friendly and walkable access to the nearby Leisure Centre, as well as a natural play space for the community. Two community rooms for activities are incorporated in the design for future tenants to use. 

Online design review

The Planning for the Future white paper laid down the challenge to bring planning into the digital age. Given the current restrictions due to Covid-19, the team draws on the PlaceChangers platform to add innovative best-in-class methods for public engagement to their design process. 

The online design review for this project allows members of the community to get involved in housebuilding and review designs for the site from the comfort of their homes.

John Winter of Crook Community Leisure said: 


“This project is an exciting opportunity to provide high-quality affordable housing for rent , aimed at veterans, disabled and the wider community. The project is now at the detailed design stage and we are looking forward to hearing from local people, helping to share the future of the site. The revenue from this project will be re-invested into expanding the leisure facilities on our existing site nearby.”

James Longfield of Dixon Dawson said: 


“Community-led developments provide an opportunity to do things differently and develop high-quality housing for a smaller site to fit the local need. This proposal considers the health and wellbeing of residents. Alongside accessible, affordable accommodation, we have included community rooms, ample green space, and natural play spaces.”

Joe Ridgeon, the planning consultant at Hedley Planning, noted: 


“As a leading SME planning firm in the North East, we are always excited about projects such as these that provide social value for the local community. We look forward to seeing this project develop”.

Sebastian Weise, director at PlaceChangers, noted: 


“As a leading UK firm for digital planning, we are proud to make engagement with housing projects more easy for the public and project owners alike; this project makes exemplary use of the innovative PlaceChangers consultation platform. It also shows the North East's leading role comes to excellence in construction.” 


How to review the designs

Local residents are now invited to participate in an online design review for this project. This innovative engagement format is hosted on the PlaceChangers platform, where anybody can see the proposal map, and respond to any aspect of the proposals in an interactive format. 

The design review is open till 18th of December on the PlaceChangers platform:

Organisations mentioned

Crook Community Leisure is a community-based organisation based in Crook, County Durham aiming to provide the community of Crook and its surrounding area with the opportunity to take part in a variety of sporting activities within a specialist built, high quality sports venue. 

Hedley Planning Services is a forward-thinking North of England planning consultancy, specialising in securing planning consents for a wide range of development projects across the UK. 

Dixon Dawson Architects are an award-winning practice with a long standing reputation for design expertise, completing projects nationwide, cross sector experience and dealing with all stages of the development process.

PlaceChangers is a startup focused on digital solutions for collaboration and engagement in development and regeneration projects. The PlaceChangers platform helps architects, urban planners, and developers to understand the context of new development proposals through collaboration and intelligent handling of data. 

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3D visualisation

3D Models in Detail: Area Capture with Photogrammetry


In part one of the series, we evidenced a growing adoption of 3D modelling and model making for community engagement. There is a greater push for design quality within the industry, and this has been supported by the UK Government (see White Paper on Planning for the Future) which may see 3D visualisations of current and the future built environments take a more permanent and prominent role within the planning process, including public consultation.

In the second part of a series, this article presents the 3D models of larger geographic areas, such as neighbourhoods or cities, that have the potential to support public consultations. No longer confined to the realms of the Gaming Industry, built environment professionals increasingly use 3D visualisations in Urban Planning. Cities such as Manchester or Newcastle/Gateshead hold large-scale models of their city centres.

The abundant availability of images of the world and computing power means that we can now more easily create 3D models from photos. This is called ‘photogrammetry’ and has been popular amongst 3D model creation. This is done by compiling 3D models by 2D images by a computer. It has been used by historians, designers and architects who have been able to capture objects who would like to present objects with a rounded perspective. For instance the Tredwell dress from the Merchant House. Professionals in urban planning have also begun developing 3D models as they collaborate with 3D modelers (or 3D artists), but unlike the humble dress, develop a 3D model on a much grander scale. 

This article will look at the tools and services available for organisations who want to capture the current environment within a 3D model. Reviewing these options, I conclude with the advantages and disadvantages of using such services for engagement. Specifically, I focus on photogrammetry as a solution to environmental, heritage, architectural, archaeological, ecological and community consultations to aid clarification before any conceptual designs are devised. Beginning with what is considered before the creation of a photogrammetric 3D model for a consultation. We then explore the requirements that produce a 3D model via, photogrammetry, aerial photogrammetry, and laser scanning surveying. We can observe that these methods are interconnected, but not identical.

Considerations for using 3D models in public consultations

First, it is crucial to understand that this technology is not currently standard in public engagement; and that there are a variety of ways and approaches to creating a 3D model. Weighing up the use of a 3D photogrammetric model is also important. If you commission a model of the site context for instance, on a smaller scale it might not be longer cost prohibitive but might instead have larger a social value for the community (i.e specific historical sites.) This might only require a smaller drone or use camera images on a building scale, but will still require a specialist to bring in their understanding of photogrammetry to capture the object.

Secondly, when creating 3D models for a project, it is essential to follow criteria that will match the requirements of the use of the model, for example, in citizen engagement and the public stakeholders that you are interested in engaging with. 

Finally, it is important to note the quality of the 3D model and if it meets certain standards that will aid the public consultation. At minimum, the model will ideally help provide context to your project to help with the following:

  • Recognition: Can the public easily recognise key buildings or landmarks from the model?
  • Comprehension: Can the public understand what they are looking at? 
  • Navigation: Can the public move around the 3D models in the emulated environment easily?

Even a model with a low graphical spec, such as a low resolution or lack of textures, the model should retain a recognisable silhouette of the built environment. For example (see above) it should enable easy recognition of key landmarks to aid with navigation. This is key towards effective communication and public engagement, as so for the public to interpret the model and offer insights into the area.

What is photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry acts as a reverse Camera. It restructures a wide range of still images into a model by looking for overlaps in the visual details in each photo. 

There is photogrammetry that focuses on smaller objects, such as close-range photogrammetry (one DSLR camera or mobile phone camera for smaller objects), camera arrays (several cameras for object reconstruction), and wide-angle photogrammetry (using wide-angle lens or a 360 camera for building interiors or outdoor spaces). Finally there is photogrammetry using images from drones, aircraft, or even satellite images.

3D representation of Trafalgar Square on Google Maps.  

When creating photogrammetric based models, they require at least one image per surface and have graphic key details visible in two images. There should be anywhere from 20-250 different visual shots depending on the size and complexity of your object / or building. Generally the more images, the better, as this will make a model mode detailed and accurate, but it will also increase the complexity of the model, which may make it harder to work with.

Various software packages can analyse digital images to create a 3D reconstruction. Some examples include PhotoModeler, Geodetic Systems, Autodesk ReCap and RealityCapture. They are often developed for very different applications, but the good news is that some of them are free of charge. 

While some tools perform the process more automatically than others, each approach will usually create errors and require editing manually if a software cannot automatically solve the positions of the photos. This may require an element of training and ideally a specialist on the team who has a degree of experience on the respective method. All going well, these models provide accurate information for planners, developers, designers and architects who can review the captured built environment interactively as a 3D model, rather than via traditional photo images. It can have the benefit of going back to study a site in retrospect even if no longer on site; and it can be a useful input to public engagement. 


Different methods to create 3D models from images

Focusing on if photogrammetry is suitable to capture a larger environment for a consultation with the public, it is important to be aware of the various options in making 3D models for currently existing buildings. The following photogrammetric models are created in various methods, from ground based photos, aerial Photogrammetry incl. Laser Scanning. These all create 3D models that can be interacted with on its surface level (i.e viewed at 360 degrees) and the preferred options of photogrammetry amongst professionals and 3D model enthusiasts.

These models will mostly differ from how the 2D imagery is being collected, either from the internet, the ground, aerial photography or laser scanning. This will differ in the level of detail and size of the model.

Self-made photogrammetry

Tools are becoming freely available to create 3D models through a process that relies on photos from standard photo cameras for instance. While this option will have to rely on the expertise of the 3D modeler or software engineer, the ordinary enthusiast is increasingly able to produce models themselves using tools like Blender, and Alice Vision while professionals might prefer Autodesks ReCap Pro. Either way these programmes make a 3D model out of hundreds of pictures of a selected building. The 3D model can then be transferred onto a web viewer in which external servers can then view it. A popular web viewing tool for photogrammetric models is Sketchfab, as many modelers can upload 3D models to share amongst other enthusiasts. Businesses can also purchase use of Sketchfabs web viewer, which is a popular tool for outlets wanting to present items such as furniture without being physically there. 

Photogrammetric 3D Point Cloud created with DSLR - Creative Commons (from

Simple models are useful for consultation, as it can capture the current imagery of an area. The model would be frozen like a photograph, but navigable. As the model is purely a composition of images, it cannot be edited as a digital model could. Aunty edit that could be made will be mostly cosmetic after the model is created, such as changing colour of the textures or exposure. Any amendments to the built environment would not show in this model, but the model can serve as a backdrop in game-engine based visualisation tools, like Blender. 

Reasons this type of 3D model might not be as applied by planners currently stem from issues such as capacity and skill. The process is being done by a 3D modeler who will most likely be an external for-profit company. This means that this 3D modeler will be filled in with the necessary information of the consultation, they will need to capture the imagery and access to this site before they can create the model.

Handheld photogrammetry like the other options will require an external company gathering the imagery / 3D data before pipelining. In many aspects this would be costly for a single building without many external features. 

Aerial Photogrammetry

Aerial Photogrammetry is used when an even larger 3D model is required. Often archaeologists will use aerial photography to capture large historical sites, which can either be viewed in 2D or turned into a 3D model for observation. Unlike the method above aerial photography gives professionals the ability to create 3D maps, as well as the 3D model. 

Aerial photogrammetry uses aerial images that are acquired by satellite, commercial aircraft or UAV drone to collect images of buildings, structures and terrain for 3D reconstruction. As the air-born data collection can capture a wider area than 3D augmentation from the ground-up, the size of these models will be vastly larger. They will most likely take in details that might need to be later erased in the software like any other aesthetic touch up. Unlike the method above, the project will require a specialist in aerial photography as a drone will be needed to fly a predefined route and capture images consistently for a large area. 

The breadth of detail in this method will require more time to compile and finalise the 3D model for viewing. The benefit of this method however, will be that these photographs are likely to be geotagged (i.e a GPS coordinate) and aid the compiling of a 3D map. The software used to compile these maps are more specialised than its grounded alternative. DroneDeploy and Pix4DMapper photogrammetry software for instance have been created with the collaborative team in mind. This can be beneficial if your interest expands from just a public consultation but interweaves with the material required for desktop research.   

In fact, companies such as Google and Apple have produced 3D maps using satellite-based images. Reasons this type of 3D model might not be as applied by planners can be due to issues with copyright. Many examples found online rely on image and 3D data provided by Google Maps. Google has made their data online in a viewable form from the public, and effectively many of these examples might be against Google’s terms of service. 

Aerial photogrammetry is a much larger model than the ground level option, and therefore much more costly due to the additional aerial hardware needed to capture the imagery data. 

Aerial Photogrammetry and Laser Scanning Survey

This approach combines the photogrammetric system with aerial laser captures and relies on data collected by both aerial surveys and laser scanning. Once again acting as a top-down method, as if a large blanket covering the geographic area in question. Unlike the previous method, this relies on an extensive data collection and regular updates for efficiency management. This kind of survey has the highest degrees of accuracy but is also the most expensive. 

© Northumbria University (used with permission)

Virtual NewcastleGateshead (VNG), is a model for Newcastle and Gateshead resulting from a joint venture between Northumbria University, Newcastle City Council, and Gateshead Council to create a three-dimensional digital model of Newcastle and Gateshead. The Councils sit on the opposite banks of the River Tyne and therefore was a mutually beneficial risk that could result with a range of applications both urban planning and organising heritage plans. 

This has been an effective method for heritage consultations, due to Newcastle’s rich history and striking aesthetic, but such a model can not be overlaid with textual details. The model also requires to be regularly adjusted, as roads are reworked to fit a 21st-century city plan, and pedestrian paths and underpasses are better presented in the model (an issue that results from the top-down data collection.)

Such a model is a workable solution for urban planning in the United Kingdom’s changing environment. Changes to a cities skyline (i.e Hadrian’s Tower in Newcastle) will require additional visual data, collected by an aerial laser and developed into a reworked version of the VNG project. It is a technical solution which requires the support of technical and planning leaders in the area and reaches out to external stakeholders to develop a conversation on the shared environment. 

Underlying issues of Aerial Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry relies on techniques to manipulate a large quantity of images into a 3D model. This approach naturally has a number of limitations that currently hamper its use in urban planning.

A photogrammetric model requires a very large number of images, individuals with a certain skill set and at times powerful technical resources that will increase drastically as the level of detail and scope of the model increases. Furthermore these images are collected in a range of different ways but can be restricted by the creator’s own access to that data. When creating models for public engagement, it can be problematic in publishing data that might originate from different places. This can be worked around if organisations have access to their own aerial collection resources. This can be costly, but as seen with the partnership between Gateshead and Newcastle Council can be worked around. 

Relying on photogrammetry can create its own issues as these 3D methods are trapped within its aesthetics. They mostly can serve as an input. It would be hard to present a master plan with just the aesthetics of the building project. Certain information within a public engagement needs to be presented, such as light, accessibility, eco-sustainability, and building materials. This means that 3D models of any proposals need to be created separately for use in public engagement. These models are also more in the control of architects, who produce them. Therefore, it can be hard to explain the necessity of a contextual 3D model. 

Models of the build environment are also not yet at simple to deploy and therefore limited for members of the public to engage with. Nevertheless, as the digital platforms mature, we can expect this to become easier over time.

What does this mean for public engagement? 

There’s currently a big push towards more engaging and innovative engagement tools and methods. Engagement events aid the specification of the project. Relationship building with the community fortifies project development from public backlash. Developers are moving beyond singular engagement events to reach out to external stakeholders. 

Public Engagement is now becoming a responsibility integrated into the plan of works and has been noted as an effective project strategy within RIBA. Alongside that process, we see an increasing range of digital methods and tools for planners and developers alike to communicate with external participants. 3d visualisations play an increasing role for the ease with which they can make apparent current built environment conditions and potential future alterations. Photogrammetry, simply put, can be a great starting model for an initial consultation, to engage the public about their community.

While photogrammetry is an amazing process which configures two-dimensional images into 3D models for analysis, its production can be restricted by a user's access to imagery, time and resources. 

The role of built environment models still needs further definition. 

If there is interest in planning to create a 3D model for consultations, such as the aerial photogrammetry model, it will most likely be used for a consultation reviewing the current environment, and aiding the public with a visual prompt (i.e. a heritage or environmental consultation). Nevertheless, for a model to be fully owned by a project team, the visual data (aerial photography, ordinary photography) collected for its use must be owned by its creators. This is why, while photogrammetry can be simply compiled by certain software, it requires a professional hand to collect aerial photography. 

The creation of a model representing the area is a collaborative effort, it requires investment, time, data, and interest to renovate the model. Due to its expense, large-scale models might be best embedded in a Council’s consultation strategy. In large-scale modelling projects such as the Northumbria and Gateshead virtual model, both local authorities worked together to cover the price for the creation of the model.


Send us your thoughts or get in touch for advice on using 3D visualisations to engage the public.

About Megan

Megan Marie Doherty is completing a PhD at Northumbria University on the ‘Design and Evaluation of Building Information Modelling capabilities for public consultation in urban planning and master planning’. Megan Doherty has a background in public engagement from previous roles in media and heritage organisations.

You can follow Megan here:  @m3ganmdoherty 

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Orbit uses PlaceChangers platform to deliver an interactive master plan consultation for Gilston Park


On behalf of Hansteen, Orbit Communications used the PlaceChangers platform to deliver an interactive pre-application consultation for their Gilston Park development, Scotland. 

Falkirk Council identified the site for a mixed-use development including residential,  business and employment land, and local town centre function. A large share of the site required careful planning of green and open spaces for recreation, play and sport. 

This consultation was for a permission in principle. The format of the consultation was therefore focused on high level principles of the development, including the access points, greenspaces, and the key development zones.  

What was done

Orbit Communications set up a consultation on the PlaceChangers platform and embedded it to their existing consultation website. For this, they used the simple consultation widget provided by the PlaceChangers platform. In addition to simple response forms, this web-based consultation enabled the public to see master plan in its context and comment directly on the proposals.

Orbit Communications promoted this consultation using flyers to local residents, press releases referring to a kick-off consultation event, and a range of stakeholder meetings. They also encouraged local residents to visit the consultation with social media adverts. The consultation programme was built around a live kick-off event, in which the team presented the development concept, answered questions, and invited participants to respond online in follow-up.

Presentation of consultation materials - Orbit Communications

What outcomes did the client achieved?

Overall 1500 people visited the project web site, and a total of 70 participants responded to the consultation. 

Orbit Communications used a standard response form alongside the PlaceChangers platform, effectively offering respondents different ways to engage with the project.

In response to the two different channels, the project team members remarked that 90% of the responses on the PlaceChangers platform were constructive in comparison to those from the form on the website, which provided less scope for design-related suggestions. 

Some of these responses can be seen below, for instance, locating key issues with access roads proposals “Currently a very busy road which I use for both car and cycle - needs significant upgrade work at the western end”. “Concern would be that high density housing would end up being the affordable housing only - development should be truly mixed, in tenure, density, and looks."

The consultation enabled urban designers at Barton Willmore to amend proposals prior to submission to Falkirk Council. 

As a leading communications firm in Scotland, Orbit Communications is always looking for new and innovative ways to deliver web-based digital consultations.


The PlaceChangers platform was ideal for a masterplan project of this size. It was great value for money, enhanced our engagement programme and fit into our existing web architecture. 

I'd highly recommend Sebastian and the PlaceChangers team. They were very quick to respond to any technical queries and were on hand when needed, often at short notice.

Alastair Stewart, Account Manager (Orbit Communications)

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Urban design

The Last of the Cities Beautiful — What does ‘good urban design’ mean?

It’s been an interesting year for open data. Wednesday 1 July, Ordnance Survey launched OS Data Hub, a public and free to use API exposing many of its datasets to developers, with a promise of further expansion in “late September”. Thursday 6 August, the Government published its white paper entitled Planning for the Future which, among other things, imagines a planning system “based on data, not documents,” specifically propounding an “open data approach that creates a reliable national picture of what is happening where.” Sunday 16 August, HM Government announced they would be killing off PHE, plunging the future of Fingertips into doubt. Thursday 20 August, Australians discovered a “bizarrely Eldritch” skyscraper in Microsoft Flight Simulator located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The so-called Melbourne Monolisk was soon traced to a data-entry error against the popular OpenStreetMap, proving that even the largest Tech firms in the world rely on crowdsourced open data. 18 September, an experiment by economists in Italy and German found that relatively minor additions to a town’s Wikipedia article could boost tourism by 9% or more.

In 2010, HM Government launched and, soon thereafter, the Open Government License. Effectively equivalent to CC-BY, the OGL represents a commitment by the UK public sector to the compilation and public dissemination of the data that relate to the most important aspects of our lives. The initiative was spearheaded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt of the Open Data Institute. Among their most ardent demands was the public release of Ordnance Survey data under the OGL. Ordnance Survey signed up to the ODI in October 2014 and switched to the OGL in 2015. The launch of OS Data Hub APIs this year is welcome, but OSM’s dataset remains more comprehensive on many details, particularly in cities.

The hundred year masterplan

I want to talk about planning in England from the perspective of someone who grew up in Canberra, a planned city. Since its inception in 1911, the details of the plan have changed, but, for more than a century, the broad vision has been followed and development of the Australian capital has been closely scrutinised. The result is a city that has been named the most liveable city in Australia, and indeed the world, rating as highly on quality of life as it does as a tourist destination.

Right now, here in England, new towns are in the news again, and the Planning for the Future white paper proposes Development Consent Orders for new communities as Nationally Significant Infrastructure - like water, energy, transport or communications. If, as the white paper suggests, the biggest problem facing the UK today is one of housing supply, then a planned city of half a million people seems a good case to study. What have planners of the Australian national capital got right? What have they got wrong?

In 1988 Sir Peter Hall referred to Canberra as “one of the last Cities Beautiful.” The reference is to the City Beautiful Movement which inspired the 1911 plan for a new Australian national capital by Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin.

What “beautiful” meant to the Griffins differed from what it meant to many of their fellow Americans. The word “beautiful” was - and is, even in this country, to this day - often used to mean “monumental” and “classical”, which is why Washington DC is famous for the kind of architecture which, in turn, went on to inspire “McMansions” across the country.

Beauty, the Griffins understood, is to be found in an evidence-based design which responds to the needs of a public whose wellbeing is of the first importance. The Griffin plan for Canberra is dense but permeable, tight and efficient but with substantial green- and bluespace.

Griffin, Walter Burley and Australia. Department of Home Affairs. Canberra Federal Capital of Australia preliminary plan [Melbourne: Dept. of Home Affairs, 1914. Web. 27 September 2020

Canberra plan submitted to the Canberra design competition by Walter Burley Griffin "View from the summit of Mount Ainslie”. 1911-1912 Held at the National Archives of Australia

Designed for a city of “about 70,000 people” - similar to the “assumed optimum” for the British New Towns of the 40s - the plan was quite specific on a number of key factors, including:

neighbourhood units (explicitly named as such in 1911) and diversified urban sub-centres connected by a tramway system 'borne at public expense'; [...] The tramway would be paid out of revenue from the leasehold system, which was a central feature for the foundation of the capital. Public ownership of land in the form of leasehold would avoid speculation in undeveloped land; land value increases would remain in the public purse.

From the moment construction began in 1913, the Federal Government kept a close eye on its development, concerned above all that the national capital should generate a return on investment over the long run. Construction was slow during the World Wars and the Great Depression. In 1946, the Australian National University was established, but otherwise, during the 50s, development of the capital was restricted by a lack of resources in the area and a lack of executive power.

In 1958, the responsibility for Canberra’s development was vested in a single independent statutory body, called the National Capital Development Commission, which would, under the Menzies Government, see increased federal investment toward an administrative political centre fit for the departments of Government and, ultimately, for Parliament itself.

Almost immediately, something unanticipated happened:

Rupert Swarbrick. A graph of the population of the ACT over the 20th century. Wikimedia Commons 2009

It was clear, extrapolating the data, that a plan for a Canberra of half a million people would need to be developed as rapidly as possible. Consulting with planning experts in UK and USA, the NCDC made efforts to develop a plan for the growth of Canberra. However, despite the fact that the Griffin plan “included tram lines and even a suburban railway, [...] these vanished as, from the 1950s, the idea emerged that Canberra was to be made into a paradise for the motorist."


In 1965, [NCDC planner Peter] Harrison visited the United States, where he discussed the linear city concept with transport engineer Alan Voorhees. [...] Although [Gordon] Stevenson and Harrison proposed it as a way of diverting major roads away from Canberra’s centre, the linear city had actually been invented to promote rail transport.

The linear model that Voorhees proposed was based on similar models implemented in Copenhagen and Stockholm in the post-WWII period. In 1966, Vorhees was commissioned to develop a Land Use and Transport Study for a Canberra of 500,000 people. The resulting model, in 1967, was based on what was at the time a cutting-edge approach to transport modelling based on simulations (on paper) of movement under given conditions.

The study was criticised in 1969 for, among other things, lack of rigour “collecting and analysing the data usually used in a transportation study, relying instead on approximate measures of travel requirements derived from other cities.” Specifically, it used the results of an earlier survey, from 1961, which explicitly excluded non-owners of private vehicles:

Since the ACT had nearly 60,000 residents in 1961, but only 19,000 motor vehicles (ABS, 1963, pp. 286, 545), the majority of the population would have been excluded from the travel survey. Journeys made on foot or by bicycle were also excluded, even though these would have been significant, since many Canberrans still lived in hostels and other government housing close to workplaces. The second departure from US practice was the omission of the ‘mode split’ stage, in which the shares of travel by car and public transport are modelled.

As a result, the plan for the growth of Canberra came to rest on the premise of north-south expressways which would bypass the city centre and the Parliamentary Triangle, connecting “new towns” to the north and south. These “green corridors” would act as scaffolding for the future districts, now known as Belconnen, Woden, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin. Summarising the plan in 1967, William Holford (himself, at odds with the Commission, in favour of “electric fixed-rail traction”) explains that:

Within these parkways corridors and the 'urban corridors', which are to run through the districts themselves, there will be room not only for the regional highway, but for reserved lanes for public transport vehicles, tracked or trackless.

Compare the “Y form” plan proposed by the NCDC in 1967 (present day district names added for context) to the recent plan for a new light rail network in Canberra, the first line of which opened only in 2019: 

Left: Holford, William, "Tomorrow's Canberra: A Review Article", TPY, 43 (1) July 1972 pp26-30Right: Transport for ACT, from Probert, Oliver (2015) “Canberra outlines plan for light rail city” <>

It inclines one immediately to wonder: if the plan for light rail was there in the 60s (and, indeed, in the original Griffin plan), why is it only being built now, half a century later?

Economic self-containment: size matters

The “moral for Canberra,” as Holford aptly summarises, was based on “borrowing from a future when there will be a nation of 20 millions and a city of half-a-million.” As it happens:

...the Griffin plan was based on a concept of continuous growth beyond the range of 25,000 to 75,000 stipulated in the competition conditions. But the 1950s and 1960s were the era of the British New Towns;

In 1961, the Chairman of the Hemel Hempstead New Town Corporation, Henry Wells, was approached for advice on the financials of the capital as a capital investment. Australia took a lead from England’s “Garden City” movement. One of the defining ideals of the Garden City was a road system “planned for safety as well as freedom of movement” and, specifically, in the 60s, the concept of “community without propinquity” - in other words, “low-density motorised living”. Of course, as we know now, “the goal of self-containment was never achieved in the postwar new towns,” with one exception:

Milton Keynes[, ] with over 80% percent [sic] of workers finding employment in the borough during the first decade of this century [...] stands in stark contrast, however, to the lacklustre economic performance and town centres of much smaller new towns[...] It appears that size matters.

Given a choice between steady infill as per the Griffin plan on the one hand, and suburban sprawl on the other, the planners of Canberra “opted for a predominantly low density growth form”. In other words, the data was fudged for ideological reasons. The NCDC were wedded to the same mythical ideal that ultimately led to poor health outcomes and, indeed, economic failures of the New Towns in England.

The situation changed in 1972, when Gough Whitlam became the first Labor Prime Minister since 1949. Whitlam, having himself grown up in Canberra, was keenly interested in the power of political will in planning the national capital. With his Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, Whitlam acted swiftly to rectify the mistakes of the NCDC.

The first step was to commission the Canberra Short Term Transport Planning Study, which “employed new modelling techniques, based on ‘the simulation of individual traveller behaviour’”. As Holford summarises in 1972:

What was done by heart and is now being done by the head. Political faction and fantasies of design have succeeded by social and economic analysis and the aid of computers.

The study demonstrated that car dependency was not a forgone conclusion, even with the low-density plan for Canberra already being implemented, the first residents having moved into Woden, Weston Creek and Belconnen in the late 60s.

Uren having articulated a transport policy which would subsidise public transport subsidy over new roads, the NCDC warned that it would lead to congestion. The Government’s response, in 1974, suggested that congestion would act as a disincentive for private car ownership, provided there was a viable alternative in the form of buses. Sure enough:

The share of ACT households without cars actually increased, from 6.5 to 8.4 per cent, between 1976 and 1981, while car ownership rates stagnated: by 1980 the ACT had lower car ownership rates than any of the states. [...] Canberrans had confirmed what the modelling of the Short Term Transport Study had predicted.

As anyone who’s used it knows, ACTION - the bus system in Canberra - is among the worst in the world today. How can this be? What happened?

A perpetual battle against an empire

In 1975, the Third Whitlam Ministry faced a crisis of supply in the Australian Senate. In fact, Whitlam’s approach to taking control of the Senate included the introduction of two Senate seats for the Australian Capital Territory. Susan Ryan - who, sadly, passed away 27 September this year - became the first Labor Senator for Canberra in December of that year - too late to save Whitlam, who was dismissed by the Governor General on Remembrance Day.

The NCDC worked quickly to suppress the findings of the Short Term Transport Study, asserting in 1978 that the 1974 transport policy, which was based on the study, was “not used as a measure to achieve greater use of public transport.” Over the course of the early 80s, the NCDC built a narrative - based, as in the 60s, on fudged data - of ACTION as a drain on the public purse. With the rise of Economic Rationalism in the late 80s, ACTION soon faced massive cuts, leaving Canberra with the bus system it has now.

Not all was lost, however. In 1991, the Sustainable Canberra report assessed transport and land use data for the national capital in comparison with other cities across the globe. The report’s recommendations? Greater density, light rail. The ideas that had underpinned the Griffin plan grew popular again. Usefully, as we will recall, the Voorhees Y Plan was, in fact, originally designed for light rail.

The ACT has, just now, reelected the Labor party for the Legislative Assembly. On Monday 1 November, they formed Government in a coalition with the Greens, who tripled their seats. Both parties ran on light rail, as opposed to the more car-friendly Liberals.

This election is, in other words, only the latest stage in what Marion Mahoney Griffin called “a perpetual battle, one might say against an Empire.” The “battle of Canberra” has raged for a century, a batte between two sides - on one side, evidence; on the other, ideology - both sides vying for the meaning of the word “beauty”.

Why should we care?

In January this year, Ordnance Survey announced Colouring London, a project to crowdsource data on London’s building stock, explaining that, “without a building dataset,” we, as a society, are not “able to create accurate theoretical planning and energy scenarios [...] critical to creating a sustainable city.” The project is part of a broader Colouring Cities research programme based on an “open data/open code approach” designed “to stimulate a rapid increase in the volume, detail, variety and quality of open spatial data available for cities, at building scale, in a way that [...] widens public participation [and] promotes citizen science.”

Of all the examples in my opening paragraph, Ordnance Survey is the only one that doesn’t lean on the public for its data. OSM and Wikipedia are crowdsourced. Much of Fingertips data is self-reported. Why are Ordnance Survey going to the public now? Because their high-level approach, based almost entirely on remote sensing - while very useful for “areas which are difficult to access” - is useless when it comes to the built environment.

The mistake the NCDC made, modelling the growth of Canberra, was excluding large swathes of the public from their survey. If, as we’ve seen, this was unforgivable in the 60s, it is only more so in the 21st century.

In July this year, Transport for New Homes published a study of new and proposed garden communities from a transport-oriented design perspective. Of the twenty “core” communities, not one had secured funding for a national rail link. In fact, the only funding they found allocated to rail was at Beaulieu, in Chelmsford - “the first railway station to be built on the Great Eastern main line for over 100 years” - sourced from the Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Clearly, despite the high-minded ideals behind the new developments involved, a fundamental mistake is being made. Transport for New Homes argues the mistake is being made at a national policy level, specifically in the allocation of housing targets based on a model that excludes transport. It looks to me like national planning policy makes the same mistake the NCDC made, and for the same reason: the fantasy of the English countryside relies on cars.

The Building Better Building Beautiful commission report, Living with Beauty, takes pains to include transport - among many other things - under “beauty” as an umbrella term:

There is little doubt that the location of new development has a considerable impact on whether a beautiful outcome can be achieved. Transport, utility and social infrastructure are fundamental components of placemaking.

It’s therefore strange that the white paper makes almost no reference to transport, and, indeed, no reference to rail at all. Only one reference is made to cars (in an answer to question 16).

A search for “public transport” turns up a single result:

in identifying land for inclusion within the Growth area, or the densities of development appropriate in different locations, the ability to maximise walking, cycling and public transport opportunities will be an important consideration.

This vague statement is followed by proposal 16: “a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts” - in other words, a framework based on less - not more - data.

The Living with Beauty report also emphasises:

...that the planning process must be both open to the broadest possible public involvement, as well as being able to represent the public interest even when local engagement is hesitant or absent.

It’s therefore strange that the white paper’s proposals extend Permitted Development Rights under the so-called “fast track for beauty.” The word “beauty” here refers to designs that are “popular and attractive”, a beauty that is skin deep. This is not the beauty of the Griffin plan, the evidence-based beauty that responds to the needs of the public.

It’s telling that the white paper, ostensibly all about a planning system based on data, should undervalue data collection. The white paper should champion masterplan data, but masterplan data is meaningless without contextual data, and a masterplan is meaningless without evidence.

In the vision of the Web originally propounded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Internet would become the vehicle for the massive democratisation of civic decision making. This vision has to a great extent transpired: in the 21st century, we live in a world driven by data, and while a lot of that data is held by firms, a lot more of it is publicly available - and, increasingly, publicly collected.

The reality of a data-driven world is that the public and data are inseparable. The poor planning decisions that undermine environmental sustainability and public health and wellbeing will always be made by those who fudge the data. We, as a nation, have the chance, now, to build a planning system that is driven by data in the sense in which Berners-Lee meant the word: a planning system that represents the public.

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PlaceChangers responds to UK Government consultation on “Planning for the Future”


The UK Government has proposed wide-ranging changes to the planning system in England and provided those initial ideas in a white paper titled "Planning for the Future". The white paper tackles three aspects of the planning system in England along three pillars, including (1) how developments are approved; (2) how there can be a greater consideration for quality standards; (3) and lastly how infrastructure is funded on the back of development proposals. 

The Secretary of States foreword for the proposals are indicating the governments intent for a better and more equitable system. 

Our proposals seek a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system. They aim to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players, where all pay a fair share of the costs of infrastructure and the affordable housing existing communities require and where permissions are more swiftly turned into homes.

The government proposes to address the above three elements by a radical shake-up to the way the planning system is working now. On the high-level, this is built around three key aspects

  1. a simplified plan-led system, built around a series of zones that trigger different approval processes for new development;
  2. a codification and greater incorporation of design codes throughout the system; and
  3. a combined or somewhat consolidated infrastructure levy. 

Underlying these proposals, the government also puts a strong focus on complementary and connected digital tools to assist in the preparation of evidence bases, in the vetting of development proposals and plans against requirements.

PlaceChangers has now responded to the white paper consultation. Below we summarise key aspects of our response. 

PlaceChangers response

Timing of public involvement 

The white paper calls for the application of best-in-class engagement tools, but leaves the timing of any public engagement unclear. We suggested:

Development proposals

Design codes alone will not remove critical design choices and will need interpretation at the time of application. In exchange for the greater clarity given to development projects under permission in principle, new laws should ask for more opportunities of residents to be involved in the shaping of the development project, including through (1) an early-engagement stage, and (2) a pre-submission consultation to refine the design. 

Local plans

The proposals recognise engagement only at a call for sites stage and in a formal public enquiry. This is not enough. A background research stage should be introduced and done first (6 months) before the start of the ‘call for sites/ideas’ phase which would include a community engagement programme to help define different development trajectories and priorities.

Digitisation of plans

The plans call for the digitisation of plan-making and a return to spatial form as part of local plans through zoning and site-specific guidances. 

We are fully in support of this proposal. Honing the planning system toward these ends could facilitate collaboration and coordination, as well as increasing transparency and driving public buy-in. It certainly could also shorten turnarounds.

Government guidance should be provided on the level of the structure and format for the data standard.

A stepped approach should be considered whereby standards are developed for a local plan; and separate standards are developed for the structure of development applications; and master plans.


Focus on design codes

We support local design codes.

They are helpful to provide developers with a guide as to what is valued locally.

There are issues around codes, however, especially as developers will ask for amendments  based on their default house type standards or the particular scheme. 

PlaceChangers advocates a use of design codes at different levels of specificity, i.e., at high, medium and low levels in order to avoid ambiguity and ensure a comprehensive and coherent strategy-based plan. 

Going in line with comments made regarding public consultation on development proposals, the believe legislation should introduce greater scope for influencing site layouts and details of the proposed design to help translate design code guidance into actual development proposals. 

Neighbourhood plans

We advocate for the continuation of neighbourhood planning. 

Local plan guidelines and standards should be developed in such a way that neighbourhood plans can be prepared using similar approaches.

Neighbourhood plans need to be 'machine-readable' or available in a digital format. As neighbourhood plans could be helping in the establishment of locally-sensitive site-specific policies, and thereby help resource-constrained local authorities on the neighbourhood and local level. 

Consolidated impact appraisal of local plans

Merely asserting that “sustainable development” is “existing and well-understood” doesn’t make it so. The 2018 “Planning 2020” final report for the TCPA Raynsford Review (p43) is forthcoming on this point: “the 2018 NPPF creates its own unique definition of sustainable development which leaves out core internationally agreed principles.”

We believe that, on the contrary, it makes sense to incorporate the requirement for an evidence-based, digital appraisal of the sustainability of the local plan.

The National Government’s role on this point is to fund the commission of that evidence base.

PlaceChangers suggests the inclusion of health impacts as part of a combined impact appraisal, which would capture the particular characteristics of the local population and inequalities in access to key services, which can serve to provide clear targets for improved infrastructure delivery/use of the developer contributions to tackle inequalities and inbuilt health and wellbeing objectives. 

Financing infrastructure and affordable homes

PlaceChangers is supportive of a simplified infrastructure levy for construction and we appreciate the efforts to remove loopholes that exist in S106 and CIL. It’s specifically great to see that the new levy will apply to PDR. 

Timing and capture of levy 

PlaceChangers voiced concern about the move of the infrastructure levy to be charged against the final sales value of the development, as this causes potentially significant financial risk to local government if the market falls and subsequently any money committed to affordable housing from this scheme cannot be covered. 

For substantive projects, which take many years to complete, developers should be committed to pay part of the levy upfront; there should be safe guards against the eventuality of falling house prices. The charging of infrastructure at the point of completion opens the door to speculation for falling house prices, and potential stalling of the development as suitable to navigate infrastructure payments.

Greater transparency and involvement in use of levy receipts

The increase in the value capture should come with greater transparency about what these funds are to be invested for, which can be aided by digital technologies. There should be a greater linkage between the investment and the locality of the development.

And residents would ideally be involved and informed about the use of the contribution as part of early engagement on development proposals. There should be an opportunity for greater up-front discussions about the use of that money.

Again, going along with our call for the reformed law to clarify the engagement stage for all major development, even if ‘fast-tracked’.

Affordable homes

The consolidated levy should aim to secure more on-site provision than S106 currently does.

An in-kind contribution is preferred as it has a greater chance to deliver mixed-tenure developments on site, while also increasing certainty of the timing of provision. 

If affordable housing is provided in-kind by the developer, additional guidelines should be given by law about the following aspects:

  • Definition of a minimum quantum of affordable housing sites.
  • LPAs should have power “to specify the forms and tenures of the on-site provision” is needed as part of the site layout.
  • A minimum standard for quality should apply to the site as a whole and that this should include affordable housing. The Building for Healthy Life or similar criteria should also apply to affordable housing.
  • Definition of standards for master plan quality that uphold access to high-quality infrastructure for affordable homes on the same level as for market housing on site.


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Building the 20-minute neighbourhood – Lessons from Mambourin

Who would not want to live in a neighbourhood where every essential aspects for a good life are close by? A grocer is around the corner, on weekends we can go to the park, and if need be the medical practice is also around the corner. Even better if most people in the neighbourhood enjoy a similar level of access. 

This principle underlies the philosophy for planning in Melbourne Australia via Victoria State Government's 35-year Melbourne plan. The concept has since gained traction in many other places around the globe. In the UK, the Town and Country Planning Association in collaboration with Sport England are exploring how the 20-minute neighbourhood concept can be implemented in towns in England to support healthier, active lives.  

In this article, I am picking up on this concept in relation to an on-going innovation project to deliver a tool that provides feedback on health outcomes for early stage master plans. If you like subscribe to the newsletter (on the right) or sign up for early-access via the link at the bottom of the article. 

The planning approach in Melbourne has recently been detailed in a report on the planning of a new neighbourhood, Mambourin, by Monarch University (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH), which I used here to pull out relevant details on definition, implementation challenges, and lessons learned. 

Characteristics of the 20-minute neighbourhood 

The 20-min neighbourhood refers to the proactive planning for short (800m) distances to vital local services. An 800-metre distance is considered to be walkable by the majority of a neighbourhood population.

It emphasises on “community infrastructure” in the neighbourhood, which includes traditional services, such as parks, but importantly also other ‘non-traditional’ services, such as co-working spaces, and third spaces that encourage social interaction. 

Through an easy-accessible and walkable neighbourhood, the 20-minute neighbourhood caters to the health and wellbeing of residents through greater levels of social interaction and active forms of mobility; while also aiming to support equal access to vital services and thereby improved life chances for residents. 

The principle link between a walkable, green neighbourhood and the health and wellbeing of residents is now fairly well established. 

As outlined in the report on Mambourin, the principle benefits of a 20-min neighbourhood, are the following:

  • Short walking distances promotes resilience and sustainability, also life satisfaction and control by having access to what is needed in everyday life in the neighbourhood.
  • Evidence shows that proximity to local services is a significant predictor of wellbeing.
  • Interaction supported by the co-location of vital community infrastructure also creates a feeling of communal safety and protection and therefore makes developments more popular to residents. 

20-minute neighbourhoods don't only exist in Melbourne of course, but the conscious effort to plan for short distances is a conscious effort that will need to be done at plan making stage. 

Implementation challenges 

In England, 91% of the 803,000 homes built between 2011 and 2019 were built in the suburbs, which by chance also highlights the key implementation challenge for the 20-minute neighbourhood. In urban fringe locations, the closest town centre tends to be further away than 20-minutes, and many residential projects tend not to plan in extra services, which often is tried to be covered indirectly through with developer contributions. 

The report on Mambourin shows how there are a number of key factors in delivering the 20-minute neighbourhood, starting with a built form suitable to walking and early consideration of the location of community infrastructure.

Another key aspect is the coordination of the delivery and staging of any new community infrastructure, as that has a major impact on the sustainability of a scheme from the get-go. 

Image shows the location of Mambourin, a master-planned development by Frasers Property Australia (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH, p.8)

The report on the 20-min neighbourhood notes the following challenges, especially in the implementation of the community infrastructure.  

  • The lack or delayed implementation of the community infrastructure makes it harder to realise the 20-minute neighbourhood. It is essential to staging community infrastructure development as the development unfolds to provide meeting spaces and access to essential services.
  • The financing of that infrastructure: Developers want to build houses first. Developer contributions lag the completion of the development. 
  • Infrastructure is often dependent on other people or organisation; and therefore needs coordination and perseverance.

Similar challenges are typical for any larger new built project. It was demonstrated in the development of Cambourne, UK, for instance, a major development in an out-of-town locations where residents reported lack of activity during day time hours, delayed phasing of school places, a lack of community meeting spaces or a retail or entertainment offer within the development

What can we do better?

The Melbourne report captured several key lessons for 20-minute city principles in suburban locations, based on an insightful analysis of the provision locations and phasing of the community infrastructure. 

The key recommendations and lessons learned for me were those below. These do not appear as surprises. Given the large developments are complex, given the sheer number of people involved, and eventualities in any project, these principles can still pan out in unexpected ways if not kept on top of:  

  • Design teams need better processes and tools for knowledge sharing on the local social environment and what is provided by them to deliver community infrastructure intelligently.  
  • Projects should start with an in-depth audit of the community infrastructure: The report shows how it can be done. It categorise critical services and their minimum catchment areas; then evaluate what is near the development site; then look at understanding demand and compare this with the projected provision of facilities.
  • A place-based collaborative approach is necessary to coordinate provision. This is because all social and communal infrastructure depends on delivery by various organisations, including local government, regional government, and other third parties.
  • Proactive activation of temporary spaces during construction helps with bringing residents together. This can serve to bridge gaps in provision while waiting for the community infrastructure to be delivered. 


The majority of new housing developments are built in sub urban locations. The report on the planning for Mambourin based on 20-minute neighbourhood principles provide essential insights for improving the design quality in new built residential master plans in suburban location. 

Future challenges in relation to global climate emergency and now Covid-19 show remind that an easy-to-walk neighbourhood with key community infrastructure nearby is essential to achieving health and well-being; and it helps to live more sustainably, too. 

We need better ways of coordinating local insights and testing options with a large number of local decision-makers and residents. A key focus of the Melbourne example is infrastructure audits based on access to key facilities to allow shortcomings to be identified early on in the process.


PlaceChangers is working on tools that help ambitious project teams to incorporate health outcomes in master plans. Get early access by signing up to the beta programme. 

  • An easy way to characterise the existing neighbourhood and access to key facilities to understand how to optimise the master plan.
  • Easy and quick means for testing master plan versions against performance with regard to creating a 20-minute neighbourhood. 
  • A framework for capturing feedback and insights at every step in the development lifecycle.
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The role of 3D models in community engagement

Header image source: Warrington & Co (with permission)


In part one of a series, this article reviews the development of 3D models as public consultation tools. No longer confined to the realms of the Gaming Industry, 3D visualizations have been applied to other areas of daily life. One such area is Urban Planning.

In this article we look at how the traditional tools of public consultations are supplemented by tools which fully immerse users into understanding changes being made in their environment. This article will conclude with the limitations of using 3D Models in public consultations and the advantages comes from using such a tool. 

Public Consultations  

Public Consultations is an essential to planning processes in the United Kingdom and has a unique role of everyday democracy that reflects the Country’s heritage. Public Consultations are a statutory requirement in the United Kingdom’s Planning Policy, and so architects, developers and planners initiate public engagement. 

Public consultations give communities the opportunity to engage with the project team (architects/developers) about the future of the area. This is then used as feedback for Architects who will return to the project development, and make changes that better reflect the projects future environment. 

For public engagement to be successful it must:

  • Include a diverse range of stakeholders with different interests
  • Offer a broad range of visual and textual sources available to stakeholders that both open discussions but also demonstrate constraints
  • Offer a two-way exchange to aid those who either have questions or lack specialist information to fully understand certain decision making
  • Have a sense transparency
  • Include opportunities for follow up work with stakeholders
  • Be organised with an audit trail for later documentation. 

Public Consultations ideally inspires conversations through an interactive (but not exactly technical) method. The project team then reflects this engagement in the technical detail that often happens in the background.

This engagement with the public is carefully managed to align discussion points at the right time in the design process of a project. This is meant to coincide with the exact roadmap of the project development, while it should be completed prior to construction better practice will have developments engage with the public at its Concept Stage (see RIBA 2020.)

This is not always explained fully to the public and therefore obvious constraints within the design process are not always immediately clear to members of the public. An effective public consultation will present a transparent narrative for members of the public. This will feed into a better overall relationship with the public and become essential to the developer’s future external stakeholder management.

Traditional Methods for Public Engagement

Public Consultations currently use a large arrangement of different methods (emails, letters, social media, and news outlets.) The typical call to action incorporates a public exhibition where the design team presents their vision of the proposals to the public. As engagement becomes more digital, planners and architects have turned to more online tools for presentation and feedback via websites, survey forms, and closed questions. 

IA survey recently conducted by Northumbria University on behalf of PlaceChangers on current engagement practices demonstrates the ‘state of the art’ in the industry at present (see below). 115 respondents from within the AEC industry noted in-person public events, social media, websites, and emails as predominant methods for engaging. 


% of respondents (115 respondents)

In person / public event and exhibition


Social media


Online via website


A third party platform


Telephone calls




Questionnaires / Surveys


Physical Engagement via public events and exhibitions usually involve the project team presenting the modelled elements of the architectural design to the community stakeholders. Additional information is provided through boards/posters that demonstrate further data on the wider area relevant to the design (see below). Planners and architects will guide stakeholders at these events through the ideas and scope of the design. They will then gauge the public’s views as participants are invited to leave comments on forms. Naturally 3D models feature in many of those presentations, as for example, for Lancaster’s city centre vision below:

Boards at town centre vision consultation for the Lancaster City Centre (2018).

What is a 3D Model?

With the current changes in the social and technical environment there is a growing adoption of 3D modelling. This runs in parallel with a greater awareness of the need for design quality, for instance, in the UK’s new White Paper on Planning for the Future.

3D models are a 3-dimensional visualisation of the environment. This can be achieved in various ways (see other blog in series) but all revolve around an interactive cartography of an area. This has become more enticing for developers and local authorities as long-term planning simulations become affordable. 

The incentive to use an interactive model in a public consultation, is to help stakeholders see and understand the urban landscape, and branch over certain ideas without professional training on the part of the public. It is hoped that such a project encourages further public engagement.

As developers are pulled into the public eye through the likes of social media, the importance of stakeholder management increases and so, their relationships with external stakeholders. They are moving beyond singular engagement events and beginning to engage an on-going interactive method. Digital models are becoming key towards effective communication and public engagement that brings out insights that can improve the project with positive changes relevant to all engaged parties.  

Case Study: Warrington Master Plan Architects, Planners, Local Authority, General Public

As part of the recent regeneration plans of Warrington, a computer-generated 3D model of the area was designed to show how proposed town regeneration schemes would look after development. This would actively work as an interactive Master plan and help planners, architects, designers (and investors) to understand the environmental impact of a prospective building. This was developed in association with AECOM, as part of their asset advisory services.

3D model such as this allow designers to test the core principles to help understand form, function and environmental sustainability, by placing external models into the city model for review. For members of the public, models help proposed works or new developments to be visualised, communicated and its impact assessed on the urban environment.

In a recent public consultation the model was used to exemplify the height of certain buildings in the area. Models such as this demonstrate new proposals scale in context of the environment, helping to see and consider visual impacts more easily. 

Warrington Master Plan and model. Source: Warrington & Co (used with permission)

Limitations of 3D Model

It is often hard to direct the focus of the public to design details at the best of times, but the 3D model can often be noted as either distracting or overly focused in the wrong areas. It is hard to mediate a public consultation when using digital media, as the information transaction often feels one way. 

In the example stated above, Warrington’s use of a 3D model drew attention to the Councils designs of a proposed hotel and flats. Due to its height and its proximity to the centre of the town this was brought up as a major issue to the master plan, although this had been stated in earlier regeneration plans published by the Council. 

The production of visual geometric plans is tied to the production of the project development, and it can be hard to accurately portray the current architectural design to the public, especially through a 3D Model. For instance, Warrington’s model, while spatially accurate, presented the design as a dense geometric shape. This meant although when paired with the master plan, the public could observe the designs use of materials that would soften its aesthetic and allow through more light – unfortunately its height and texture meant that its design was misread by the public.

Dense 3D models can be attributed to the shrinking timeline of a project’s development. Though architectural agencies are expanding in their workforces skill-set, the limitation of architects with these skill sets can slow down the production and this can work against the project's timeline. The concept stage (see RIBA 2020) will specifically undertake design reviews with client and project stakeholders. However, issues may arise as the 3D model may not be ready or the project team may not be confident in presenting them to public stakeholders. 

The best solution for most architects and developers is to decide on focused design decisions needed in the building project. Creating a model that best reflects the fundamental requirements of the building project, while also presenting room for the design to evolve and grow, will help external stakeholders identify what parts of the design being presented is for informing and what is being currently decided upon, in which they can aid with insight 

Benefits of 3D Models 

Nevertheless, the 3D model is an enticing prospect as it encourages public participation. The Warrington example presents a public engaged with the designs of a building project which would be central to citizen’s daily life. 

Fundamentally, the participants were able to recognise and comment on an aspect of the design which was never picked up on within the master plan. Recognising the area’s importance and functionality with its population is important for community engagement because it presents the environment's social use. Something, which becomes more important as the high street changes, and our society develops its social environment.   

When relying on 2D images in survey tools, there can be just as much bias (feared) in 3D models as it focuses primarily on a single piece of information. Using a 3D model opens participants to view the building project within its future environment and while participants can recognise some areas of a plan, they still rely on secondary information. This can be time consuming within the public consultation when only so much time is allotted for the public to engage with the architect and planner. 

By designing information that non-professionals can understand, 3D models help members of the public engage more intuitively. This might be a simple change but it drastically alters the relationship between stakeholders, as less time is being occupied by the public trying to comprehend the information being given by the consultation.  


The 3D model has the potential to drastically change the public consultation, as it reinvigorates the conversation between a building projects team and external stakeholders (public.) The UK has a rich history of developing its planning policy to include an aspect of social engagement when discussing the shared environment. 

In this article we engage with a 3D model being currently used as a public consultation tool in the UK, and the concerns and benefits that have emerged. While a 3D model requires time and expertise within a building projects timeline, sometimes this effort can fall short when reviewed by the public, and aspects of a design can be misread and undervalued. 

Nevertheless, the engagement with the public is reinvigorated. The citizen can more easily understand projects through recognisable visual information, and therefore be able to participate in the day-to-day democracy of their environment.  

While the developer may be concerned by the implications of the 3D model, they are currently looking towards more digital tools to engage with external audiences. As the UK Government addresses the need for more immersive technology in different aspects of governance and economy – it might be in the interest of the developer to stand out from the sea of social media with a tool that presents the company as transparent.

Send us your thoughts or get in touch for advice on using 3D visualisations to engage the public. 

About Megan

In conjunction with PlaceChangers Ltd., Megan Marie Doherty is completing an industry-sponsored PhD at Northumbria University on the ‘Design and Evaluation of Building Information Modelling capabilities for public consultation in urban planning and master planning’. Megan Doherty has a background in public engagement from previous roles in media and heritage organisations.

You can follow her on Twitter: @m3ganmdoherty 

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North Tyneside Council launches digital consultation on PlaceChangers platform

An interactive consultation has been launched giving people the chance to have their say on North Tyneside Council's draft masterplan for North Shields. The digital consultation is hosted on North East-based startup PlaceChangers’ interactive engagement platform.

It comes after North Tyneside Council’s long anticipated draft Ambition for North Shields and the Fish Quay masterplan was made available for public consultation at the start of August to be developed with communities and businesses. The draft proposals covers the square mile around North Shields town centre, including the historic Fish Quay.

PlaceChangers, a local tech startup who also recently obtained funding from InnovateUK, the Government’s innovation agency, has been working closely with North Tyneside Council to bring their draft proposals to the comfort of people’s homes, on mobile and desktop devices.

Deputy Mayor of North Tyneside Cllr Bruce Pickard said:


“Our ambitious plans for North Shields to create great places to live, a good choice of high-quality housing and a thriving visitor destination will transform the town centre.

“These are still proposals and as a listening council we are seeking the views of residents, businesses and other interested parties to help shape our thinking before the plan is finalised so it’s great news that it is now even easier to have your say via this digital tool.”

Dr Sebastian Weise, CEO of PlaceChangers, noting the government’s recent planning reform proposals, added: 


“The Covid-19 crisis has been a real challenge for planners to engage the public. Interactive digital consultations must certainly be on the table when it comes to engaging and being involved in designing neighbourhoods in the future. Covid-19 and the recent Planning White paper put an emphasis on digital collaborative tools for planners, that guide planning projects end-to-end”.

The role of public engagement, and the use of digital tools and data to inform planning decisions, are in the spotlight, nationwide, as heated discussions are ongoing regarding the future of housing, transport, infrastructure and active travel in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.

In this context, businesses in the North East and local authorities like the North Tyneside Council are leading the way nationally. The Ambition for North Shields and the Fish Quay masterplan is an exemplar of the kind of public consultation the country will only see more of in the near future.

Projects such as the North Shields master plan, are just one of the areas where the the company helps. The company's platform recently also supported housing needs and character appraisals for affordable housing site as well as a master plan for new neighbourhood, for instance. With those services, planning professionals can develop planning proposals with relevant input from the local community, and developers can ensure that their projects softly land in the local community. 


More about the North Shields master plan

Residents of North Tyneside and the wider area can get involved in the public consultation online at any time before the consultation ends on 16 October by visiting

Find out more about the draft masterplan for North Shields at


Organisations mentioned

PlaceChangers is a startup focused on digital solutions for collaboration and engagement in development and regeneration projects. The PlaceChangers platform helps architects, urban planners, and developers to understand the context of new development proposals through collaboration and intelligent handling of data. 

North Tyneside Council is a local authority in the North East of the UK. 



Dr Sebastian Weise
PlaceChangers CEO and Founder

Alex Moon
PlaceChangers CTO and Cofounder

Nicholas Bryan
North Tyneside Council 
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