Responding to an increasingly digitised world, VU.CITY is helping to bridge the knowledge gap between traditional planning and the rapidly modernising system beginning to emerge. Professional bodies such as the Royal Town Planning Institute now recognise digital planning skills as part of their Core Competency Framework – a sure sign that planning is on the cusp of becoming digital. To smooth the transition from a culture of paper to a culture of digital, QUB has committed to using VU.CITY – the world’s largest, most accurate smart city platform – as the medium through which to prepare Planners for the future of their profession: digital planning and digital decision making. Students will benefit from lectures led by QUB alumnus Justin McHenry, who has joined the VU.CITY team as Resilience Planner and Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate. KTP is a government funded programme that is enabling QUB and VU.CITY to collaborate to improve the VU.CITY platform and develop a tool that can become part of every planner’s day to day workflows. McHenry will be supported by QUB’s Head of Planning, Dr Stephen McKay and Dr Philip Boland. QUB Planning is ranked number one for teaching quality in the UK and therefore their advocacy of VU.CITY within the University’s teaching curriculum is further recognition that VU.CITY can become the integral 3D visualisation platform which underpins the Northern Ireland, Irish and UK planning systems. We are extremely proud to have their vote of confidence in our work.
GO TO YOUR.VU To provide access to everyone, enabling them to explore their city as it is and as it could be in the future. While we are still very much in the exploration and development stages, we recognise it is important to engage with our audience and listen to feedback throughout the process. This first step aims to inspire that feedback and prompt ideas and critique that will in turn improve the service. We are also actively working on integration with other digital planning platforms. It is our intention that Your.VU integrates with existing digital planning services seamlessly. At this formative stage Your.VU allows the public to navigate London (other cities will follow) and view the currently consented developments. This immediately provides the public with a unique overview of development in their city, while allowing Your.VU to listen to feedback and understand how we can evolve to help everyone engage in the planning process. While the future functionality of any new digital service is hard to predict, our broad aims for Your.VU is to: Allow citizens to view their city from a mobile browser for free Show consented developments Show planning data Allow data to be entered for consultation both from developers and as feedback from consultees Allow new development proposals to be entered for consultation Facilitate integrations with other digital planning services We aim to develop a service that citizens want to use, so hearing from you is going to play a big part in how we develop Your.VU. We are open to feedback and engagement from all quarters. Please get in touch if you would like to comment or play a more significant role in the development of Your.VU.
The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme helps businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity by providing better access to the knowledge, technology and skills held within the UK. This year it has recognised VU.CITY’s partnership with Queen’s University Belfast’s (QUB’s) School of Built and Natural Environment – a collaboration that utilises a breadth of academic expertise to inform how VU.CITY’s existing Smart Cities platform can better assist the planning industry. It is only the second time the KTP programme has made such an award to a UK Planning project. The aim of VU.CITY and QUB’s partnership is to make VU.CITY’s existing platform an integral part of every planner’s daily work – an interactive tool to understand and analyse all the key planning constraints applicable to a development decision. By situating VU.CITY at the foundation of every planner’s daily workflow through creating efficiency gains in how they utilise the ‘planning trinity’ of forward planning (placemaking), development management and enforcement – VU.CITY will help combat a notoriously slow and complex planning system. In practice, this means enabling a planner to enter a site location and details of development and immediately be presented with an indication of the degree of compliance or non-compliance with existing planning policy, legislation and guidance. The results would be based on a robust set of material considerations contained within the VU.CITY platform. The goal of the partnership ultimately forms part of VU.CITY’s mission to create a more transparent, efficient planning system through the increased use of digital resources. The start-up wants to address the complexity, slowness and inconsistency of the current planning system, which research shows can negatively impact on urban development and city growth. This funding grant announced by Innovate UK will go a long way to helping VU.CITY make those goals possible. Meet the KTP Team We’re delighted to welcome Justin McHenry to the VU.CITY team as the Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate. Justin will be with us for two years and act as the primary link between the VU.CITY teams in Belfast and London and our academic partners at Queen’s University Belfast. Justin is a Resilience Planner, and former graduate of the QUB Planning School, who holds a first-class accredited planning degree and two awards for the highest performing planning student during his time in education. Justin has since gained a breadth of experience working on major transportation infrastructure, development, placemaking and renewable energy projects across Ireland. He will be mentored by Jamie Holmes, VU.CITY’s CEO and Kevin Francis, a Partner at surveying practice GIA. The VU.CITY team will benefit from the invaluable academic knowledge base held within QUB. Dr Stephen McKay, Head of Planning and Dr Philip Boland, Reader in the School of Natural and Built Environment will ensure that VU.CITY will be supported by world-class academic research into the ever-evolving responsibilities of planners.
We recently received funding from the Geospatial Commission for the development of an app that will enable anyone to see the buildings that are proposed in their area. The app will also allow them to comment on the plans. And it will provide access to a whole range of information about existing buildings – gathered from the public. This will be a really significant step towards improving the way in which the general public in London can understand and participate in the planning process. Geospatial data can help with the planning process To deliver this project, VU.CITY is partnering with Colouring London, an initiative developed by the Centre for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. Colouring London is already gathering data on buildings across London in 12 categories – from location, age and size to materials, energy efficiency and whether it is a public asset. By working together, this crowdsourced data will be available as a 3D model, using VU.CITY’s existing platform within which the whole of Greater London is available as the most accurate 3D map in the world. The app, called YOUR.VU.CITY will enable users to see a 3D version of any location in London from street level, from above, or from their office or bedroom window! By including schemes that have already been granted planning consent, the public will gain a real understanding of how their local area will change. Growing, building and testing Since we got the grant a few months ago, we have developed a properly structured team. Work is already underway at CASA developing an API which will allow the data held within Colouring London to be integrated with VU.CITY. This will be completed soon, and we’ll then begin the process of building and testing the app before its launch in the spring of next year. A massive thank you to the Geospatial Commission for helping bring such an exciting partnership to life, and for taking a global lead on embracing the data revolution. For planning, we hope that this is just the start of a new and better approach to how the built environment is understood, and having access to even more open government data will help close the information gap between the public and the professionals. This article was first published by the Geospatial Commission, click here to read more.
It is for this reason that we are driven by the needs of the end-user, whether that is planners, developers, architects, local authorities – even the general public. At our recent VU.POINT event, we invited a number of organisations and local authorities who use the platform to share their experiences and give us some honest feedback about how it works for them. With 20 London Boroughs now using VU.CITY, and many making supplying a 3D model that can be inserted into VU.CITY a requirement of submissions in the pre-app process we are determined to make the platform easier to use than ever before. It was invaluable to hear from Hackney Council how they were able to use VU.CITY to contextualise their Local Plan by providing fantastic visuals to illustrate concepts in their public document. The intuitive nature of the platform enabled them to accurately map out opportunity sites in Shoreditch and, by placing models inside the platform, and have constructive conversations with heritage and planning officers to assess the impact of potential schemes. This dramatically sped up the process of fine-tuning proposals which could then be constructively fed back to landowners and developers. Croydon Council Croydon Council has used VU.CITY to assess four schemes at the pre-app stage and at the planning committee. The authority is also in the process of feeding in information on its Local Designated Views so these can be incorporated into considerations for future planning applications – a time-saving tool that assists both planners and developers. David Roden Architects David Roden Architects spoke about how VU.CITY provided them with an unrivalled ability to show the real-life impact of a sensitive scheme in Victoria Street, Westminster. The practice was able to demonstrate that its scheme would not adversely impact on local views and, as a result, had a smoother ride through the planning process. Haringey Council For Haringey Council, accountability was a key factor in adopting the platform. Traditional presentation methods such as boards, CGIs and physical models are created entirely by the Applicant and planning committee members could be sceptical of their accuracy. With the collaborative approach VU.CITY provides, they explained that members can now make a more informed decision based on information they can trust. Perhaps one of the most compelling points of the day though was made by David Roden, of David Roden Architects, who described it as a ‘hugely powerful tool’. He gave an example of two architecture practices that were battling for a project. Ultimately, the one that did not win was told it was because they did not use VU.CITY. It was fascinating to hear so many examples of VU.CITY providing invaluable benefits during the planning process, but also to hear suggestions of additional features that could make the programme even better for different users. We are constantly thinking about how we can evolve and improve VU.CITY. These suggestions are key in shaping the future direction of the platform and we have already begun work on some of the points made at the event. With more and more examples of the platform being used collaboratively by planning consultants, architects and officers, there has never been a better time to start using VU.CITY. If you are interested in attending the next VU.POINT event, or would like to speak to a member of the team to learn more about VU.CITY, get in touch with Rachel Feenstra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our belief that the time is right to view the world digitally so we can make better decisions in planning was backed by Innovate UK, who recently awarded a government grant to support our work. The proposal, on which we’re partnered with UCL CASA’s Colouring London, focuses on the need to increase public engagement with the planning process through open data, accessible through a mobile app, titled YOUR.VU.CITY. The publicly available platform will allow a much wider range of people to engage with the planning process, giving them a real insight into how their streets, infrastructure and facilities will be developed in the future. Left: Conceptual image of what the public platform may look like on mobile. Our ambition is a straightforward one: to change how planning is understood, who delivers it, and for whom it is delivered. Including the public, and allowing planners to show tangible 3D designs of how their work will affect their living experience, is hugely important. It would improve engagement and harness a transparent vision between the built environment and everyday citizens. From start-up to scale-up, the rise of VU.CITY has been a seemingly quick one, but of course, the platform is the product of decades of valuable experience from its founders. Taking complicated issues and shifting from tech-heavy language towards more visual representations will not only change how the industry approaches development but give people a much clearer understanding of how their local areas might change. Our work with Colouring London is the first step to making sure the community has an authoritative voice in this conversation. That Innovate UK can see the same value in VU.CITY, as we do, is greatly encouraging, and we’re hugely excited to be designing and building our app in partnership with Colouring London, who will supply their crowdsourced data to allow for a game-changing moment in how information is shared using such technology. The long-term goal is to support the sustainable growth of our cities by using a bank of user-led information. This can assist with better-informed decisions – in terms of design and functionality – that reflect the broader needs of each community, providing a better view for a better world. The project is funded within the Audience of the Future programme by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
“It’s about trying to manage good growth and sell the benefits of high quality, high-density schemes to people overall.” Allan Jones – Design Officer, London Borough of Redbridge At our last Public Sector Discussion Forum, VU.CITY users were asked about the benefits of applicants submitting a 3D model as part of their planning process. It was recognised that whilst there’s an all-round intent to standardise the submission of 3D models, there’s a general lack of awareness within the development community as to the benefits it will bring. The adoption of new technology can often take time, but we only need to remember the initial reluctance towards BIM to understand the results can be worth it. With two-thirds of London’s Boroughs now signed up to use VU.CITY, as well as Belfast City Council, a growing number of design officers are realising the value of being able to show, and visualise, their architecture in 3D to help conceptualise the end result. “2D Images don’t help,” says Nathaniel Baker of Haringey Council. “The general public can’t always see the end product, and even amassing model can help people to visualise what the end product really looks like. It’s all about transparency now, being able to visualise the cumulative impact and holistic view of development opportunities.” Planners are still in the early stages of adopting this technology, with high hopes of increasing its adoption when the newly re-engineered VU.CITY is released. “We find that using 3D adds that extra layer of detail that allows us to really understand a building and its impact on its context. Ultimately, the tool allows us to get to the final design much quicker and far more collaboratively.” Tom Buttrick, London Borough of Southwark. Architects who have recently adopted VU.CITY as part of their design process includes Foster and Partners, Wilkinson Eyre, AHMM and Bennetts Associates – firms who are helping us change what the platform will look like in the coming years. Particularly as we build more tools to help shape the smart cities we live in. Do you want to improve how the planning process is conducted? To find out how to use VU.CITY as part of your process, please contact our Sales Team on 0203 889 7030.
Recently VU.CITY hosted the second Public Sector Discussion Forum with 37 of London’s Planners from 16 different organisations, to uncover best practice in Playtech, the obstacles to success and how to engage more of the development community in its application. This blog is a summary of the day. January’s workshop was lead by conversations from three different councils, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and the City of London. All gave accounts of how they have been using VU.CITY throughout their planning decision process – from analysing a scheme’s visual impact, to building their evidence base at Public Inquiry and through to engaging with the general public on the impact of new development. Agnieszka Zimnicka, Urban Design Officer at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, spoke of how important it was that we use the tools at our disposal which help to add scale to our unusual densities. She spoke about the challenges that their Local Authority faces, with Canary Wharf being one of the most densely populated areas in the country housing over 7000 habitable units per hectare. She explained how useful VU.CITY has been, even in early stages of use, to assess applications in their 3D entirety thus keeping a focus on architecture as a 3D art and the impact on the overall townscape. “VU.CITY allowed us to find scale and confidence in what is the right development, it allows us to assess a building in its 3D entirety”. Meanwhile, long-standing users of VU.CITY, Jack Ricketts and Tom Buttrick from the London Borough of Southwark, who are also helping us scope what a digital planning service would really look like, spoke of their experience and ambition to add value to public consultation through the use of the tool. Southwark have used VU.CITY live in public consultation meetings to help residents visualise the impact of development in the Borough. At committee, they have used the platform to show dynamic views and assess hidden views and produced screenshots in reports for Planning Officer recommendations. Both Jack and Tom commented on how much 3D visualisation is adding clarity, transparency and objectivity to the conversation, though they appreciate there is still a lack of understanding from Developers on how much quicker the overall planning process can be with a 3D model facilitating the discussion. ”VU.CITY allows the whole project team to arrive at the right design more quickly, and this has to be a benefit for all”. A conversation led by Daisy Estrada, Senior Planner at the City of London uncovered both the challenges and opportunities of using VU.CITY in Pre-App meetings to ensure good design and reasonable density are placed on the agenda from the outset of a development conversation. Daisy explained how they have used VU.CITY to test the impact of tall buildings on listed buildings, with the benefit being able to visualise what is said verbally. Everyone recognised that though the intent is there for mass adoption of 3D modelling in planning, integration into current processes has been slower than expected due to the tool requiring a high spec laptop, and placing models accurately within the platform has been difficult to get right. Don’t worry; 3.0 will very soon be here. The day ended with Anthony Jenkins, Head of Technology at VU.CITY demonstrating the power of the new platform, 3.0, which has been completely re-engineered to be able to run on the standard office PC. New tools are also being developed which will be available from March, including a massing extruder and improvements to the model importer which allow you to geolocate on import, and rotate the model too. Beta Testing is commencing this week with a few trusted clients who will be helping to uncover any bugs that need fixing. So get excited with us, everyone! The future is bright, the future is 3D. #VUCITY
We are delighted to feature in the latest Planning Resource magazine and on their website on ‘How councils, developers and communities are making use of 3D modelling’ written by Adam Branson. The article explores the increasing need for a comprehensive 3D model of London and how VU.CITY is turning this concept into a reality. Two thirds of London’s boroughs now using VU.CITY to provide clarity to communities and the built environment. Assistant director for planning Emma Williamson, from the London Borough of Haringey says they are using VU.CITY to analyse large and complicated development proposal which has “led to more informed and quicker decision on planning applications”. For more information click here to read the article.
3D visualisation has recently been at the forefront of considerations for future city planning. As seen in the Mayor’s Question Time with the NLA Quarterly, Sadiq Khan commented “seeing realistic representations of what London could look like in the future is really important”. This month, we hosted a consultation with 16 Public Sector organisations who use VU.CITY to consider the impact and challenges that seeing in 3D can have on planning decisions. The group included 14 London Boroughs, Historic England and Belfast City Council who use VU.CITY in their urban growth teams. The event commenced with an honest and powerful presentation from Jack Ricketts and Tom Buttrick (London Borough of Southwark), who spoke on their experience of using interactive 3D visualisation to stimulate meaningful conversations throughout the planning process. Jack summarised their use into these four categories; Strategic Planning, Development Management, Public Consultation and “other”, being emergency planning, transport analysis, security and building safety. Their full presentation will be available to read shortly. On Public Consultation, Jack explained how much more residents could trust what they saw when viewing and interrogating a scheme in VU.CITY. “Nothing has been under or over-exaggerated, and the public can be assured that what they are being shown is accurate, or rather what they choose to see… It didn’t change their opinion, but over time the use of this technology and method of communication will hopefully engender greater trust.” Southwark’s presentation set the scene for attendees to discuss the following questions; What does 3D planning look like in 2022? Everyone felt it beneficial to strive towards 3D visualisation being embedded in decision making. Aidan Thatcher (Director of Planning and Building Control at Belfast City Council) explained that 3D planning will evolve with benefits being harnessed through its use in investment bids, assessing schemes, policy and driving process efficiency. Delegates commented on how powerful it will be to host VU.CITY images and flythrough videos within the planning portal for the general public to be able to comment. As the tool capabilities develop, the group saw merit in using VU.CITY to inform decisions around utility and underground infrastructure, traffic analysis and Environmental Impact. Assessment evaluation was also highlighted as a key benefit and being able to access the 3D model interactively online, on other platforms and lower spec computers will be crucial if 3D planning is to be adopted, particularly when 3D planning can be accessed as a ‘self-service feature’ accessible through each planning portal. What different challenges do we face the most as planners? Although often perceived differently, Planners are inherently ‘pro-development’, only they are pro the right type and mix of development. With housing targets pushing for 66,000 new homes each year in London, being able to visualise the cumulative scenario throughout a development life cycle is becoming ever more important. This question prompted us to review where a solution such as VU.CITY can add value. There are some common processes in which VU.CITY would add value across the boroughs. These are starting to be catered for, however, it was also recognised that all organisations operate slightly differently which has to be remembered, particularly when considering the cross-city approaches. A common challenge is the consistent lack of resource in planning departments, so for a tool to be truly useful, it needs to speed up not slow down the process. To improve the platform, the group agreed there is considerable value in being able to understand the constraints of a site by clicking on that location, rather than manually searching for constraints using the toolsets. By being cognitively aware of how our users work with VU.CITY, we intend to optimise based on the feedback, which will benefit all those involved in planning. What are the benefits and challenges of using a 3D model in the Pre-App process? As Aidan at Belfast City Council summarised after their use of VU.CITY at a recent Planning Committee meeting, “One screenshot from VU.CITY showing context saved 15 minutes worth of conversation”. The same applies to the Pre-Application Process. Being able to have early concept conversations with an interactive 3D model can offer a much clearer impression of the scheme, which helps get to the right development more quickly. This is a benefit for all involved – a faster route to the right end result. That being said, the group also recognised challenges that exist, with applicants often not trusting why the model is required, or what it will be used for. They’re often scared to hand over the information, which we agreed can be overcome through better communication and a clear route to accessing help from VU.CITY in what to import. Knowing there are teething issues with tech adoption across the industry (particularly disruptive tech), we are on hand to help applicants with creating models that will import. Often creating a low polycount model is not yet part of an applicant’s workflow, so we’ll be spending time on creating clearer guidance for applicants going forward. Ross Gentry (London Borough of Croydon) raised the suggestion that having a standardised approach across all the boroughs will also help; London Borough of Brent, for example, have added a requirement of a 3D model to their validation list. Delegates were keen to learn how every borough are doing things now that so many are using VU.CITY to assess schemes within their Development Management teams. It was consequently suggested to have a thread within our online forum to discuss openly so that an aligned approach can be offered to the development community over time. If we could have one feature in VU.CITY, what would it be? Having worked together to create a list of 10 features that will enhance VU.CITY, the 28 guests were given one wish. Ranging from pedestrian and vehicle data visualisation through to adding a tool to calculate zone of theoretical visibility, we were pleased to see how split the group were, recognising how useful all of the tools will be! The two most desired features were the ability to access VU.CITY from the cloud, and also including a simple polygon extruder which would allow Councils to extrude conceptual height and massing that is achievable directly in VU.CITY. Listening to this feedback, Anthony Jenkins, Head of Technology then summarised what is on the agenda for 2019. “Excitingly, the major breakthrough with our next release will be the ability to run VU.CITY in the cloud, on a standard Windows PC and iOS Platform too. We will then be working more on an in-app collaboration suite, the ability for all users to be able to save their work within the app to return to it later, as well as import their own GIS Data layers. Watch this space for news on what’s coming when!” The day was a really useful event for all, it was agreed that these workshops should be hosted quarterly, with our next being held in early 2019 (so don’t panic if you missed out this time!).
VU.CITY is the largest, most accurate digital model of London. Our 700 sq km model, created by our founders, Wagstaffs and GIA, is constantly growing and being updated with new planning consents. We use game engine software to explore and interrogate a whole city in 3D whilst integrating data. It is transforming the development planning process for developers, architects and local authorities. You can import a model at the click of a button, which addresses fundamental questions: if we build here, what will it look like, who will it affect, and how will it affect them? Find out more about the platform already being used by TfL, City of London, Farrells, Savills and many more! Contact us to buy a licence now.
VU.CITY Director, Gordon Ingram, was in Berlin last week, speaking at the Annual British Council for Offices (BCO) Conference. As well as showcasing the largest, most accurate interactive model of London and how we are revolutionising the planning process, he also gave a preview of our latest city model…… VU.CITY Berlin. Currently spanning 6 square km of the German capital, including major landmarks in highly accurate detail, the Berlin model is one of many UK and international cities in the VU.CITY team’s sights! Contact us to find out about our latest city models