What Came Out Of The Planning System: Hack?

Last weekend we held our hackathon, in partnership with Future Cities Catapult. Our company has created a technology system that extracts planning applications from England-wide councils each day. Having access to this dataset creates a crystal ball into the future, as you know what is going to happen to a place. We have gone to great lengths to collect this data and for our own product – Land Insight – we only use a small portion of the potential value, so with the Planning System Hackathon, we hoped to engage others who could see the potential of the data to create a wider variety of services with them.

35 attendees trooped through the whole weekend so they could learn to use the data. We held workshops on business pitching, encouraged the meeting of people, team formation, and create new products and services. The climax of the weekend was a pitching competition in front of our panel of judges for a chance of winning £1,000.

The ideas and effort that came out of it were incredible – way beyond our expectations. I believe this is testament to the passion that people had to fix the problems that they are familiar with in how the planning system currently fails to deliver anywhere near its potential.

Some common themes emerged: fixing the problem of under-used places that could have community value in the short term, perhaps before a development took place, or while it is vacant. Another theme emerged in that engaging and collecting data from citizens should be at the heart of the planning system, which is not being performed well by the current methods of displaying planning applications. The ideas put forward tackled these issues in vastly different and creative ways.

A run down of the tools and teams produced

Winners

Joint 1st: Demand Vision

demand vision

 

Using planning applications to estimate the current and changing demand for products and services in locations so that businesses and service providers can make better informed commercial decisions before making large capital investments.  

 

Joint 1st: Plan Gage

Plan Gauge
Making it easier to see and interact with planning applications via providing better visual information about them, tools to stay alert to changes and simpler interfaces.

 

3rd: You Plan

You Plan

Unpacking the content of a planning application to make it more visual and clear what impact it will have on a wider area, eg. having a green light appear if it affects a listed building of local significance. This approach could be used to further encourage communities to engage, comment and provide data on local needs which can be collected and fed back into schemes that there is demand for, such as fixing potholes.

 

Other ideas generated

Co-creative Places

Co-Creative Places

Using short-term space for creative projects and collecting real-time local data about thoughts on it, to drive longer term use of the space.

Future Scope

Future Scope

Turning planning applications into more 3D visual experiences, to better engage people, overcome controversy and understand impact.

Activate Space

Activate Space

Combining data sources to locate underused spaces and match with service providers and short term users.

Big Data, Machine Learning & AI in Practise

We thought this would be an interesting interview as a lot has been said recently about Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, but our company is one of the few that are actually implementing these new and powerful technologies. The soon to be “Dr” Mason has come straight from his cognitive neuroscience PhD to extract the insight from our data.

 

What is neuroscience?

It’s a term coined in the 1970s and can mean lots of different things. I prefix myself with “cognitive” which means I’m interested in the algorithmic rather than the molecular or psychological level of the brain. As in, the story of how neurons work together to store memories and drive behaviour, rather than how they function at a very low level.

 

What are some examples of things you’ve worked on?

I was interested in the hippocampus, which is a kind of internal map and GPS for the brain. In particular I wanted to know whether the system was able to do complex spatial calculations, a bit like the navigate tool in Google Maps. To test this I programmed a robotic ball to chase a rat around a room, while I recorded from the rat’s brain (yes, really!).

 

That puts a funny picture in my mind!  What got you interested in the brain?

I studied maths and physics as an undergrad but had always had an interest in the brain, which I remember from back when I was 15 listening to the Reith lectures, by Ramachandran. He talked about how people had different parts of the brain hard wired differently than others, so they can see colours when they hear orchestras play, or they can spot anomalies in patterns by combining information that didn’t deserve to be there. I thought it was fascinating about how the brain could do that and give people a super power.

 

How can neuroscience help you in the technology sector?

In neuroscience I encountered lots of messy multidimensional data and I had to come up with ways to display it. If you display data in the right way people can find patterns, so I’m very well placed to be taking in large datasets and making them easily available to people who can make decisions on that data. Its co-incidental that I worked on projects with a spatial element.

 

Can computers find patterns in datasets that are not seen by humans?

It’s not fair to say they can’t because they probably could, but there tends to be a question  first and you end up finding results that you didn’t expect. For example, if you ask ‘how long does it take an area, on average, to approve a planning application?’ we might randomly find a spatial pattern, like coastal towns approve planning applications more quickly. Then digging deeper there might be a population bias in there, such as an age or wealth demographic.

 

And this is good information as it can affect investment decisions.

Absolutely. And there can be a tonne of patterns and the more information you can possibly make available the more questions you can ask and the more interesting the answers will be.

 

What are the technology advances that are going to enable the insight from this data to emerge?

Well, at the moment I’m applying a deep learning algorithm to large amounts of text.  The output of the algorithm is a syntax tree – the kind of thing that an English language researcher might draw. Using this, the computer is able to “understand” the content of the text and pull out useful bits of information, which can be stored in a database for humans to explore.  Ultimately the plan is to feed this database back into a machine learning algorithm to find patterns, and insights, hidden within the data on a larger scale.

 

How can this be applied to Land Insight?

Once you’ve built all this data which is useful for people making decisions you can begin to automate the insights people want from it. So if you are looking to find a development site and you have all this information about a plot of land, in principle you could teach the machine to find the kind of sites people are looking for to provide them with more leads. In the meanwhile, we’re use it to scale up improving accuracy and display data more easily for people.

 

Are we really in the next industrial revolution?

I think over the next few decades we’ll see a number of industries automated. If cars can be automated in the next few years then public transport, taxi drivers, infrastructure will see a significant percentage of people are out of a job. And the same could be true for basic construction or building. Why have a man put cement on bricks and then bricks on bricks if a robot could do it? Of course every industry has its own quirks which will need human input but the bottom line is if a person can do it a machine can do it, it’s just a question of how much time do you want to spend building that machine.

 

So AI is coming?

Oh yes. By the time we have full AI it will no longer be a surprise. Over time we will get used to hearing ever more news stories of machines supposedly passing the Turing test (the ability for a robot to trick a human into thinking it’s also a human) – it’s just a question of how intelligent the robot has to pretend to be. In fact, I watched a robotics competition last year where the robots had to demonstrate how they would help in an emergency scenario (like the nuclear disaster in Fukushima)  – the first time you see a robot get out of a golf buggy you are like “oh my god, that robot was sitting in a golf buggy, and now it’s standing up outside it”, but after watching another couple of robots do it you are no longer impressed or surprised. In the space of a few minutes you completely change your view of what a robot can and should be doing. Over the next years, we’ll just adjust what we expect: “ of course you can speak to your phone and have it give you a good answer or have it give you a medical diagnostic. Of course you can have your house built for you by robots”.

 

But will a robot ever say “no, I don’t want to do that, I want to do this instead!”?

I have no idea. There’s no reason why robots have to replicate our version of cognition. But it might be that certain aspects of our cognition are important and that gives them their own will. It might just say “no, I don’t like you, I’m just gonna go and sit in the corner and read the paper”

 

What appealed to you about Land Insight?

I looked at a lot of different startups in the last few months and most of them didn’t seem like they were doing anything exciting but Land Insight is solving a real problem, and to an extent has already part solved it.

Being able to solve a real world problem by making data easier to access and easier to explore really appealed to me and is a highly valuable service to developers and the wider population.

 

And what are your ambitions outside of work?

I have been learning Russian so have been organising with some of our freelancers to do practise sessions after work.

 

Come on, don’t forget your weightlifting ambitions

Haha, I haven’t done anything for a couple of weeks. I’m up to 120 kgs now though.

Planning System Hack on 2nd December

On 2-4 December, Land Insight is hosting a new innovation event ‘Planning System Hack’.

Join us for a weekend of problem solving using planning applications. Come along to meet people, explore solutions that use planning applications that have a real impact or just because you are interested in the way that data is changing the built environment professions. The event is run in partnership with Future Cities Catapult and is a not-for-profit event.

Our Partners:

Supported by:

                

 Future Propery Tech    Geomob London   Design Buildings Wiki

REGISTER NOW

Why?

Planning applications are far too hard to access but the data they contain is a treasure trove of information that dictates how and why an area will develop. There is no better crystal ball in to the future than planning applications. They help understand how your house price will change, what you will see outside your front door, how air quality will change in an area, whether you be able to get to work faster, if a new school is coming to an area, how the socio-economics of a place will change and far more beyond these simple examples.

We have gone to great lengths to extract the data from the source, aggregate it, clean it, standardise it, map it and make it availabe from one single, easy-to-use location: our API.

We use the data to help property developers understand the history of a potential development opportunity and it’s surroundings. This lets our users understand council precdents, what use a site is designated for, whether there are risks attached to the site, if there are any stalled or failed sites they can bid on, and so they can see comparable projects which indicate what you might be able to achieve on it. But there is far more potential from the data.

Our company alone cannot extract all of this value from this data, so we are holding a hackathon to encourage innovative solutions to be made.

 

Who is the event for?

This event is for problem solvers whether they work in the built environment professions, are keen to meet people with an interest in improving the planning system, or if they just want access to a brand new dataset with over 10 million records containing multiple uses across many sectors.

If you have ever thought that planning applications can help you or your work, this event is for you! If you ever wanted to have first mover advantage on a brand new dataset, this is for you! If you want to help tackle social and environmental problems, this event is definately for you!

 

 

Register now

Geotech could be as big as Fintech

data is coming from everywhere and unlocking new devices

Alongside some of the other companies that sit with us in the Ordnance Survey sponsored Geovation Centre in London, I recently talked about Land Insight to The Guardian newspaper.

As much as smart phones give access to the world of data online, they also “haemorrhage data” about the world around which they travel. This data adds new layers to the physical world allowing better mapping, measuring of behaviour flows, integration and control of more devices and the quantification of, well, everything. On this nervous system of data the “internet of things” will grow and a greater understanding of the way the world works will evolve (in theory).

There are big bets being made on this web of connected devices – just look at Softbank’s $32billion acquisition of ARM, or IBMs recent swath of investments – but whatever the future holds, “geotech” is emerging and the opportunity for it presents is enormous – “.. as big as fintech” says Alex Wrottesly, head of the Geovation Hub.

Land Insight is leading the way in using geographically accurate data to help find and assess land with development potential that is otherwise too time consuming and difficult to locate.

Here is a link to full article

Planning Applications – fast, mapped, linked to official docs

Before Land Insight, planning applications were time consuming to get at. Held in clunky council websites, you were left having to navigate to the right place then search a slow system. What a waste of time!

There was no way to collect the ones you wanted, so you could see them together on a map. Cross-referencing them against the data you really want to see? Nah.

Yet contained within planning applications are nuggets of gold for those who want to develop a piece of land. Uses include: seeing the designated use of a site, visualising where development is happening, understanding local planning precedents, finding stalled applications and rejected ones with room for improvement. There are many ways they can provide new business opportunities to opportunistic developers.

So we fixed the planning application problem.

We enable cross-boundary, fast, easy access to planning applications back to 1997, mapped and linked to their full official documents.

See for yourself:

We have got huge improvements coming to this part of our product soon. HUGE. I can’t wait to tell you about it. It’s important.

Sign up to be kept in touch.

Use Land Insight for free

“freeeeeeeedoooooooommmmm”

 

In Land Insight HQ we obsess about making the land market more efficient and effective by creating tools to make it easier to find land with development potential.

In our latest drive to push down the barriers to finding good development opportunities, we have created a system that lets you access more of our product, at a cheaper price.

With our referrals program, not only do we reward you for bringing more of your network on to Land Insight, but we reward you for trying. Here’s how it works:

  1. For each new person you invite to Land Insight who signs up for a free trial, you will receive 100 Ownership Credits. Simple. If they don’t become a paying user: it’s no big deal, the act of them having a free trial is enough to give you the credits.
  2. If the person you invited does become a paying customer, we give you a free month use of the product. This is added as account credit at the equivalent value to the month they signed up for.
  3. We give them -25% off the first month as a bonus.

That’s it, other than one quick word of warning: once someone is on the platform, you cannot invite them again, so make sure you invite your network before someone else does.

Here’s how to do it:

  • If you don’t already have an account, make one here
  • Log in to your accounts page on Land Insight ( HERE ) > and go the referrals link (or just click HERE )
  • Fill in the name, address and email of your friend and hit “refer”.
  • Sit back and wait for your credit to arrive. It couldn’t be more easy.

Here’s a link to the full Referral FAQs

 

The Future of Property

Here at Land Insight we find ourselves lucky to be part of the UK’s blossoming property technology – “proptech” – industry… some say the “proptech revolution”. In these early days, it’s difficult to predict the extent of how far the dial will shift, but one thing is for sure: the movement is being driven by talented, dynamic, determined people who see an opportunity to make a big impact.

This series of guest blog articles is written by the founders and forces of some the hottest proptech companies. Jump in to take a look or download in the link below:

Download Articles: The Future of Property An Insiders View

Looking back from the future of property

Guest post from our series on Property Futures, by Rayhan Rafiq Omar, from The Unmortgage:

Looking back from the future of property

It’s been 20 years since the United Kingdom exited the EU, opening up this small but wealthy collection of states to massive change.

While some of that upheaval was negative: farmers went out of business en-masse as the UK government didn’t fully replace subsidies provided by the common European market.

On the other hand, the U.K. attracted inflows of capital and skilled labour from the most unexpected places across the Commonwealth.

Technologists from India, entrepreneurs from the Caribbean and Pacific rim and a whole host of highly skilled workers from Africa were welcomed to a UK that saw a massive outflow of people from Europe afraid of a population that increasingly was anti-Europe in the wake of the European project rapidly unraveling.

Much of what used to be farmland was provided with permitted development rights to create ‘English Villages’ linked to the major cities by Hyperloops paid for by the socialist government that was elected soon after then Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to resign amidst an embarrassing referendum defeat.

While the scale of young people flooding to London did not abate, campaigns like Create Streets managed to sway public opinion with clever use of technology. They used tools like Land Insight to show where streets could be built to increase population density and create lots of mini-Kensingtons across the South East of England.

By now Generation Rent has completed its transformation into Generation Unmortgage. Their kids, nearing the age when they themselves fly the coop, have less tension about housing thanks to widespread institutional investment in shared ownership.

Britain went from a nation with landlords owning £1.2tn of property and homeowners having £1tn in outstanding mortgage debt, to one with over £2tn of residential property owned by pension funds.

Those pension funds weathered another three property recessions thanks to the Liability Matching characteristic of residential property, which continued to outperform every other asset class through all the intervening economic cycles.

Even the two Presidential terms of Donald Trump in the US did little to dampen the pace of change in the world away from fossil fuels and into even more intricate globalisation.

The world is now super-connected with Internet beamed from the skies for free, bringing the Earth’s 9 billion population unprecedented levels of prosperity.

E-commerce and intense competition for last mile delivery fulfilment in the £1tn a year logistics industry finally broke the back of paper money, with the world now exchanging electronic currencies at spot rate via a whole host of Mondo-style mobile only banks.

We expect the first colonisation trips to Mars, sponsored by Tesla-X (after the merger of Elon Musk’s various enterprises), to leave Earth this year.

They’ll take with them the latest biological building materials, which will be grown in the newly found reservoirs on the red planet.

In the ashes of capitalism, socialism’s time didn’t last very long as the onset of free global internet access brought down many governments across the world, as Big Brother lost his ability to keep track of both people and money.

Much of that money, which used to be kept in old style banks and under people’s proverbial mattresses, increasingly found its way into real estate.

Sadly, property never became more affordable. But with the world looking toward Mars, none worried too much about life’s daily grind.

 

Company bio: The Unmortgage

Opening up Owner-occupied residential real estate as an asset class for pension funds. Occupiers get capital to buy a home up to 10x their income with only 5% down, and pension funds get paid inflation-linked rent on the portion the occupier doesn’t own.

Author bio: Rayhan Rafiq Omar

Property and LOLz. Founder . I write about Proptech, a lot:

Open-data revolution meets planning

Guest post from our series on Property Futures, by Yeonhwa Lee at Urban Intelligence:

Open-data revolution meets planning

Yeonhwa

The property industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution — a revolution that has shaken many if not most other industries but somehow left the property sector largely untouched. Slowly but surely, the property industry has begun incorporating technology and data to fundamentally change how built environment professionals work and how their clients access services. The open-data revolution is at the heart of this transformation.

The US was the first country to make all government data (excluding personal and national security information) “open by default” seven years ago, and Britain soon followed suit, rising to score the highest on the open-data index score worldwide. The result, in the UK property sector, has been the emergence of companies that build on and curate such open data, such as Land Insight, which helps developers find off market land by presenting data on ownership rights and past planning applications, and GeoLytix, which has collected and mapped information of over 10,000 supermarkets in the UK and provides chains with insights on opportunities for new stores. Other companies such as Zoopla and Rightmove are also worth mentioning, for creating online real estate search platforms that bring the information directly to consumers.

The above is a snapshot of 2016: data is constantly being collected, published, and curated, and the “world of bricks and mortar” is beginning to see its value. The property sector is undergoing a transformation to become faster, simpler, and more transparent. In 20 years, the disruption brought by the open-data revolution will have matured, and the data, technology, and tremendous increase in efficiency and unambiguity will seem unexceptional, just as now we can’t imagine the days before Google Maps.

All of this sounds great. However, there is one caveat. The innovations occurring in the property sector will not fully realise their potential to streamline processes if the ultimate hurdle that private sector actors must jump over, the planning system, remains as it is today: with minimal exposure to technological revolution and accepting slowness and inefficiency as an inherent characteristic of the public sector. The UK planning system has seen little innovation since its inception in 1947, and researching planning policies to understand what exactly is allowed remains a labour-intensive, time-consuming, and costly task.

This is where we come in.

Urban Intelligence seeks to revolutionise the way built environment professionals interact with the planning system. We are building a search engine that allows one to access all planning policies (currently dispersed in various formats, on websites of inconsistent layouts) relevant to one’s area of interest on a single, central platform. Furthermore, we plan to embed this policy data into 2D, 3D maps, so that planners, architects, and developers can visually understand how the textual policy manifests in the real world.

Planning policies are open data, but they are not in user-friendly formats despite the extensive research and interaction required to comprehend them. Urban Intelligence seeks to pool and curate this data, so that navigating through the planning system is up to speed with how information is shared and decisions are made in the private sector. Breakthroughs in the private sector must be complemented by innovations in the public sector. Urban Intelligence is here to bridge the gap.

Company Bio
Urban Intelligence is a proptech startup that is using tech to boost productivity in the planning system. They are currently participating in the third cohort of the Pi Labs accelerator.
Author Bio
Yeonhwa is a senior planning policy analyst at Urban Intelligence. She studied PPE at Penn and is currently undertaking a masters in international planning at UCL.

A house buyer’s right to know

Guest post from our series on Property Futures, by Barry Bridges at Property Detective:

When it comes to the biggest financial transaction of your life, isn’t it about time we enshrined the ‘right to know’?

Barry Bridges

As a failed and frustrated lawyer, one of the things I love to get passionate about is data protection. Granted, it’s not the sexiest pillow talk imaginable, but just trust me: when it comes to data, transparency and access to information, nothing sets my heart more aflutter than a good old argument about what I like to refer to as the ‘right to know’.

What am I talking about, you might ask? Well, let me put it simply: I believe that the current data protection framework fails to protect homebuyers during the conveyancing process, with the result that people buying property are subject to the most terrible information asymmetry that exists, particularly considering the financial impact of a purchase gone wrong.

First off though, let me explain the argument more thoroughly.

When you buy a house, your vendors’ conveyancer issues them with the Sellers Property Information Form, also known as the SPIF, asking the vendor to answer a range of questions about the property, ranging from the banal (who provides your broadband) right through to the serious (have there been any disputes about neighbouring properties).

As a buyer, there are several major issues with this process, made worse by the fact that you have no right to access critical local information that might help you make a better decision about the property you’re thinking of buying.

To start with, it makes absolutely zero sense that it is the vendors’ solicitor that issues the SPIF. An analogy might be one whereby we allow the pupils to set the exam questions; if there’s something to be covered up, isn’t it more appropriate for the buyers’ solicitor to be issuing the SPIF, with any additional questions contained therein?

More importantly though, if a buyer wants to raise legitimate queries about data appertaining to that property, where the data is held by a local authority, existing data protection legislation creates a barrier to them accessing the insight they need.

A good example would be ‘complaints about neighbours’, which is something that vendors’ are obliged to disclose on the SPIF. Let’s say you didn’t trust the vendors very much, and you wanted to verify the absence of any issues yourself. Well, an FOI request to the local authority and district council would be a great starting point. Except the Data Protection Act provides an exemption for ‘personal information’ to be disclosed, meaning that most district councils will refuse to disclose any correspondence relating to nuisance neighbours, environmental health issues, dangerous dogs, antisocial behaviour…and so on.

I would like to argue that we need to do more to relax data protection issues where there exists a direct financial and personal interest for the benefit of the person making the data request. Specifically, if you’re buying a house, you should be able to ask a local authority for any and all information about the properties that fall within its jurisdiction, even if you’re not the owner or occupier.

Someone moving home needs to get into the data held by a local authority that might influence a decision whether to buy or rent. I’m not talking about open data, or a broad dataset under the Open Government Licence; rather, I’m arguing for the expansion of the Subject Access Request to encompass situations where you have a direct, financial, transactional relationship with the Subject.

Like buying a home.

 

Company bio: Property Detective

Property Detective an online tool that helps consumers save time, money and effort by equipping them with all the insight they need to rationally evaluate a property, street, neighbourhood or locality more effectively.

Author bio: Barry Bridges

CEO and Founder of several successful businesses, including my current startup PropertyDetective.com Guest lecturer, public speaker and consultant to startups; when I’m not working I’m spending time with my wife and two young children, or running, cycling or paragliding when time permits!