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Community / Public space

Could a planning app increase citizen engagement?

Local building projects and their associated planning documents tend to take a winding path through local councils, often attracting anger and annoyance at every turn. But a big issue faced by planning departments is that people don’t air their complaints until it’s too late: public consultations and planning notices don’t quite prompt the same level of feedback as cranes rolling down the street.

So the Open Planning app, a collaboration between Creative Exchange and the Arts and Humanities Council, has come up with a solution: give aspiring NIMBYs (or, for that matter, YIMBYs) real-time updates on plans straight to their phone. The prototype allows you to view the application documents and leave comments; you can also set it up to automatically notify you when new plans pop up in your local area.

  

Screenshots: Open Planning/RedNinja.

At the moment, the app would allow only users to view and discuss plans on the app itself – you’d need to take your official feedback to council websites or planning meetings. However, according to Lara Salinas, one of the app’s creators, they’re working on a new feature which would allow users to directly and officially comment on applications under a username.  Overall, she says, the aim is to create “a tool for civil engagement that acilitates dialogue”.

To make this possible, the app would need the cooperation of local councils. But it doesn’t seem like this would be an issue: the developers worked with Liverpool County Council, who, says Salinas, “welcomed the initiative”, as it would make the public consultation process easier and faster.

There is, however, a downside: it’d also make it easier for trolls to endlessly spam plans for loft extensions they don’t like the look of.
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