Weeknote — 2020-04-24

Local plans

What are we thinking about?

The right starting point for the standard.

Because local plans are not always one thing, and where they consist of multiple ‘documents’ the different parts don’t always contain the same parts of the plan, we need to design for the lowest level. As someone we spoke to this week said, it’s easier to put things together than it is to break them apart. Our research has shown that the document-centric view of the world (where policies are contained in documents, and those documents are consulted on, inspected and adopted) can constrain or slow down updates where just a few policies need to be updated to respond to a local or national need. So we’re pursuing a standard for the policies that have to be held in a local plan. This should allow for information to be aggregated and presented in different ways, for example by a particular geography (not necessarily a local authority boundary)

The national picture.

One of those geographies is that of the nation. In this sprint we are experimenting with how a national picture of plan-making could be presented on the web. By exploring the best ways to present this aggregated view for range of users, that will help us determine what the schema needs to look like to enable that.

Solving problems for local authorities too

Setting a standard is only one side of this work, for it to be successful it depends on local authorities changing how they store, use, report on and present their own data. We’re looking at how this standardisation can help authorities with their duty to co-operate, their duty to consult, and their existing reporting burdens - as well as opening up other ways for planners to use their own data.


Language is hard. This is true of almost any project, and especially true of those that work with multiple organisations across different professions. Many terms have very specific meanings, but those meanings can be different in different contexts. Examples of words that have caused confusion in the last week are ‘area’, ‘strategic’, ‘supplementary’, ‘policy’, ‘evidence’, ‘status’ and ‘commitment’. We want to make sure that we’re following the right naming conventions, and that the words we use make sense to all of the data users.

What have we done in the last week?

  • We held our first show and tell on Tuesday. Contact Alex if you’d like to see the recording
  • We started our second (of three) sprints on Wednesday. We have agreed to focus on exploring the design of the national picture to inform the development of data standards
  • A survey has been sent to a group of local authorities to quickly get us a wider set of insights about how local plans are structured
  • We’ve mapped out the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to better understand what is already required in Local Plans. This has helped us to see where the best fits for standardisation are (eg strategic policies covering a set of prescribed topics)
  • We’ve also looked at the work carried out by Connected Places Catapult on presenting information from the housing numbers prototype that was developed in discovery, which helps to provide a perspective on presenting the national picture.

What are we planning to do next?

  • We’ll be working with MHCLG, Local Authorities and PINS on design and test activities for prototype development this sprint, focussed on presenting the national picture of plan making
  • In tandem with the prototyping, we’re iterating a draft schema which we will test with local authorities.
  • We’re also speaking with a couple of plan tech firms who responded to an update in the Plan Tech slack.

Who is on the team?

  • Debs Durojaiye (designer, dxw)
  • Samantha Opara (user researcher, dxw)
  • Alex Yedigaroff (transformation manager, dxw)
  • Richard Crawley (planning expert, PAS)
  • Stephen Barker (planning expert, PAS)
  • Paul Downey (service owner, MHCLG Digital Land)
  • Sarah Hunt (project lead, MHCLG planning)
  • Andrew Langley (MHCLG planning)
  • Natalie Record (MHCLG Digital Land)