Catapult highlights PDF problem with planning data

Collaboration between Future Cities Catapult and Birmingham City Council highlights amount of useful information that is difficult to extract for re-use

The Future Cities Catapult (FCC) has pointed to a heavy amount of re-usable planning data buried in PDF documents, and proposed steps to develop digital tools to make it more open.

It has highlighted the issue in a blogpost that follows a project with Birmingham City Council that investigated the availability of data around two large developments – one under construction and the other within a recently published masterplan.

Future Cities Catapult logoIt showed that more than 180 PDF documents were available with information on the impact of the developments, but the use of the format made it difficult to extract for use with digital tools.

But the FCC claims the nature of the information – in text, tables and geospatial features – should make it suitable for machine readable formats, and that there are existing standards to make it possible.

The organisation points to five changes that it says can support the development of digital tools to make better use of the planning data: require a specific list of data to be provided for all of the development; mandate the provision of machine readable information; consider sharing non-sensitive information by default; recognise the value in using external data on issues such as air quality and waste generation; and do as much as possible transparently.

“Implementing these incremental changes will fuel the design of digital tools to communicate opportunities associated with new developments in a transparent and consistent way,” the blog says.

“Comparing developments like-for-like, along with their impact and the opportunities that they offer will be quicker, easier and perhaps most importantly – a lot more compelling.”

The FCC recently launched a platform for land and planning information, drawing on data from Ordnance Survey and Land Registry. It came as part of a planning pilot commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), aimed at designing tools to help speed up, reduce the costs and improve the quality of plan-making and planning decisions.