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.

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

 

Land Insight Goes Nationwide

Who Owns The Land

Alongside going nationwide with our product this month, we have also introduced a new £50/month pricing tier. Now anyone can access un-precedented levels of land ownership transparency, served up through our easy to use interface. Give up on using clunky interfaces and annoying payment methods – get instant access to free ownership records on our map now.

There are a couple of important details to note. First of all, by “nationwide” we mean England and Wales. The second important point to note about our nationwide data is that we have not included planning applications. Planning applications are a core part of our product and we will be releasing these in stages across England and Wales over the coming months.

So, what can you do with additional land ownership transparency? As the image shows, you can now see who owns what land in an area. Among other benefits for land finding this allows you to:

  • Easily see the boundaries of a site without buying site plans
  • Spot problem boundaries and ransom strips
  • See who has an interest in a site before buying title deeds
  • Get a good idea of the density of an area and where more could be added
  • View all of the council owned land in your area
  • Spot where companies are potentially land banking

Our new pricing tier allows use in England and Wales for only £50. Other than the planning applications, this includes all data, tools, features, mapping – like Ordnance Survey’s Mastermap – and the “sites” area, in which you can save all the places you like the look of. These features work together to streamline your land finding and assessment process.

Ensure you are signed up to our newsletter to keep up-to-date with our product updates. You can also follow us on twitter and on facebook

Our Estates Gazette Article: Data Driven Property Development

land finding with data
Land Insight in Estates Gazette

 

Our CEO, Jonny, once again finding a place to spout his mouth off  😉 , ahem, to wax lyrical about property and technology. This time his article is in the Estates Gazette where he talks about the new waves of data that are entering the property industry and how they will change patterns of site finding behaviour.

You can find the article here: http://www.egi.co.uk/news/an-insight-into-catching-data/

Enjoy 🙂

 

 

RICS Modus Magazine: Proptech Innovators

Once again we were pleased to get some industry nice news coverage as one of the “Innovators at the forefront of the Proptech revolution”.

proptech
In great company, our CEO alongside SPD, Pi Labs, Splitabble, Juliette Morgan and Lend Invest

Visit the full article at: Modus Magazine on the Future of Property Technology

Sign up to our free trial now to get your competitive advantage in land finding and assessment!

Future of Property Technology Bloomberg Discussion

Jonny alongside Alex Chesterman and Russel Quirk at the Bloomberg property technology debate
Jonny alongside Alex Chesterman (Zoopla) and Russell Quirk (eMoov) on the Bloomberg TV property technology debate
Our CEO, Jonny, recently took part in a roundtable discussion in Bloomburg UK’s headquarters, organised by the venture capital fund Episode 1. Alongside him on the panel was Alex Chesterman, the founder and CEO of Zoopla, Russell Quirk the founder and CEO of eMoov and Daniel Ganesh the founder and CEO of Property Partner. Alex’s company Zoopla is probably the best known of the bunch, with it’s millions of monthly users and famous rivalry with Rightmove, but each one have very interesting businesses. eMoov are currently oversubscribed on their one million pound fund raise on Crowdcube to boost their growing online estate agency. Property Partner is a property-crowdfunding platform that lets more people invest in property, ultimately giving investors the ability to spread their risk by investing in a range of properties, as opposed to just one at a time.
Property technology (#proptech) is a very interesting space, as it is not as advanced as many other sectors, yet it affects the lives of each of us. New housing supply coming to the market is at drastically low levels which means prices are climbing at record rates. Among a wide range of ways technology has started to effect property (such as sharing bills, letting out your spare room, communicating more easily with tenants), our mission is to help expose new sites with the potential for housing to property developers, in a faster and cheaper way. With easier access to land viable for housing, more opportunities are presented for those wanting to enter the market. This was one of the main areas of discussion in the roundtable event and Jonny was able to press this point home. Technology enables new methodologies and workflows that drives new ways of thinking and behaving. It is not going away and as more data, and the ability to access this effectively, becomes available, we believe there is an answer to the housing crisis that doesn’t involve making un-popular and hard to implement policy changes.

Land Insight ready for lift off

Of the 250 businesses that applied, only 5 were selected to participate in Europe’s first property technology accelerator, Pi Labs. We were really pleased to be accepted and now we’re over the moon to announce that we’re the first to receive follow on funding. The funding allows us to grow our business faster, as well as having access to a wealth of experience with our investors having made early stage investments in Zoopla, Lovefilm and, recently, eMoov among many others.

Our company is tackling one of fundamental problems holding back the UK housing market: transparency of land information. It is simply too hard to find and assess land with the potential for housing and this slows down development. So we built Land Insight, which provides easy access to land and property data as well as providing a suite of features to extract the value. Currently, the data we use is spread all around the web, locked up in silos; it is difficult to extract and interpret. We use cutting edge technology to aggregate it, making sense of the patterns we find within it and serving it up in a way that anyone can understand.

The result is the ability to assess any piece of land for its viability for housing; the ability to locate new sites and, ultimately, create competitive advantage and huge business efficiencies.

If you’re not already on our mailing list, sign-up now. We’re inviting more people onto the platform as we expand our data coverage. Make sure you are on the list to wait inline for an invite.

We’re part of Pi Labs!

Pi Labs logoWe’ve just recently joined the Pi Labs accelerator. A property and technology focused start-up accelerator in London. Over the course of 13 weeks, Land Technologies will be joining 4 other companies to rapidly grow with the support of the accelerator. We’re pleased to be part of it and looking forward to the journey!

Read on to hear why we’re doing this and what we’re working on.


 

Land Technologies started its life when Andrew Moist, a software developer, started researching how to build his own home in London. It didn’t take him long to discover that finding a plot of land was the first major obstacle. Looking around online he couldn’t find good information on how to find a site and set about understanding the issues. Following this line of enquiry past the roadsigns of ‘industry wide problem’, ‘antiquated planning system’ and ‘lack of good centralised datasets’, he decided that he would set up a business to try and tackle it.

He reached out for a co-founder on Twitter, where a mutual acquaintance connected him with a software developer with a background in Land Management and Planning, Jonny Britton. Having experienced the lack of good software in the development industry first hand, Jonny was enthused with the idea of improving access to good information – within a couple of days the business had a core team and set about working out what to build.

The goal was to make a product that made it faster and easier to work out whether a piece of land was suitable for building on – but what exactly that product looked like was not yet known. Speaking to as many industry players as possible, they spent timing shaping the product. What they found was that the data needed to assess a piece of land for its potential for housing is difficult to find, expensive, and technical to make good use of in a systematic way. Land Insight solves these problems by bringing together key information about any piece of land or property. Building the product has been a real challenge not only due the massive amount of the data involved, but being able to provide that at an affordable price.

Screen shot of Land Insight
Screen shot of Land Insight

In the longer run, the aim of the company is to create a more open and connected land industry accessible through light and easy to use interfaces. The enabling power of linked data on land could be seen in a whole range of situations from enabling development through to the design of infrastructure or more accessible planning. One of their founders, Jonny Britton, says “it is clear that better access to date is empowering. Our platform aims to unlock data about land, anywhere, anytime, so that it can provide answers to questions and enable development”.

The team see Pi Labs as a great opportunity to access a wide range of industry experience through the mentors and support network, as well as being a great platform to build their launch into the property development sector.

The software is now available to trial. Sign-up here.