Data Use

ESRI support to local authorities

ESRI work with a large number of local authorities in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK) to help digitally transform parts of their planning process by providing tools that significantly enhance the engagement, and collaboration, with their citizens and stakeholders.

South Ayrshire Council were the first in 2016 and many followed to publish their Local Development Plan (LDP) online in an interactive Story Map rather than a PDF. This allows those viewing the content interact with it, such as zooming in on an area or asset and identify features of interest, all the while being led through the ‘story’ of the strategy intention of the LDP. South Ayrshire Council also included a linked survey for feedback that allowed them to match survey comments to actual features.

South Ayrshire were the overall winner of the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning in 2016 for their innovative approach to producing an LDP.

Since then, many local authorities have followed this approach recognising its value in using spatial data to meet users’ requirements of better understanding community or place specific aspects. Helpfully, the technology and data capabilities continue to improve the dynamic, with each subsequent local authority LDP adopting the latest versions of the technology as it progresses. East Lothian is the latest Scottish Council to use Story Maps and linked surveys for their LDP.

ESRI have also been exploring a further step change in how they can help local authorities more fully engage, and collaborate, with the public and their stakeholders. This has seen ESRI seek entries from local planning authorities with innovative ideas, from across the UK, for a next generation planning pilot. Tracking these projects in the coming months will help to further inform how best to use geospatial technology to help modernise the planning process.


Understanding age profiles and why people choose to locate or live in certain places is an important pre-cursor to developing a greater understanding of other policy areas in planning. The Centre for Cities published infographics to show how urban demographics can be viewed visually, back in 2015. These remain relevant and helpful in understanding more about how digital techniques such as these could be used in development planning.

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Infogram is a helpful and low-cost resource, already utilised by some local authorities, which can assist in increasing population data literacy, through infographics and similar techniques without significant graphics training ( This tool could assist where due to demographics, levels of digital engagement in planning may otherwise be constrained.

Scottish Hub for Regional Economic Development (SHRED)

The use of data in conveying growth and regeneration metrics is well established. In this regard, the Scottish Hub for Regional Economic Development (SHRED) has become a central source for Scottish Government’s inclusive growth resources. This in turn makes it a good digital source for information and tools on interrogating socio-economic issues for planning. There are two key resources held by SHRED:

  1. Inclusive Growth Diagnostic was developed by the Scottish Government and so-far piloted with the Ayrshire local authorities, as part of their regional Growth Deals development;
  2. The Inclusive Growth Outcome Framework

The Inclusive Growth Diagnostic provides Scottish Government’s definition of inclusive growth: “…Growth that combines increased prosperity with equity that creates opportunities for all and distributes dividends of increased prosperity fairly…”

This framework is adaptable and akin to the Place Standard tool and Place Led Investment Framework discussed elsewhere, it can be applied by planners, organisations, community groups or other stakeholders in assessing growth proposals for place.

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Investment Decisions

Increasingly and in conjunction with development delivery partners (including private sector developers or landowners, the public or third sector and community groups) the Scottish Planning System needs to support the important role of investment decision making and developments business planning. This is critical in helping to ensure development viability, including through the application of planning conditions or legal agreements concerning ‘planning obligations’ and through the support being given across Scotland to achieving inclusive economic growth. The latter can include the Planning system interfacing with locations of investment growth priority or where financial and regional delivery mechanisms are in force such as tax incremental finance zonings, City Deal Areas and Growth Deal areas. It may also require cognisance to local investment decision making such as that enabled through Community Wealth Building initiatives, Shared Prosperity awards and local grant schemes.

As a starting point it is important therefore to recognise that the Scottish Government adopt an ‘Investment Hierarchy’ approach. This is underpinned by national policy guidance from 2021 on Infrastructure Investment Planning which has been informed by reporting through the Scottish Infrastructure Commission and thereafter the Scottish Futures Trust, respectively. This also provided a basis for the Scottish Government National Planning Framework 4 (Policy 1841) presumptions around, ‘Infrastructure First’. Of particular note and for adoption digitally in assessing planning applications or considering Development plan policy and land allocations.

Common Investment Hierarchy

“…An investment hierarchy does not preclude new assets. Rather it is an approach to planning and decision-making which would consider future needs, including use of digital platforms and technology, and the suitability of existing assets…” (Scottish Government, Infrastructure Investment Plan, 2021, Chapter 3).

This approach whilst not interactive, provides a basis for the digital assessment and prioritisation of development or spatial growth options. Development proposals in formulation or at assessment stages can be assessed against it and building or place analysis exercises undertaken. At the core, the tool and approach advocate a set of stages and assessments to be undertaken to ensure the users arrive at a sustainable and reasoned development options, place intervention or infrastructure enhancement. It however must be supplemented by consideration of Place and Place Led investment principles in addition to an understanding of long term building or natural environment impacts through tools such as lifecycle cost analysis

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Place Principle

“…Place is a useful and relatable way to understand and implement change. It is a key driver of our fundamental wellbeing and a bridge between national policies and local action.” (Scottish Government, Infrastructure Investment Plan, 2021, Chapter 3). Three key tools to deliver this change are:

  1. The Place Principle: Adopted by Scottish Government and COSLA, commits to a joined-up, inclusive, and collaborative approach across all sectors in a place.
  2. The Place Based Framework: All major spending programmes should be taking a place-based approach. The framework is one means of helping to ensure alignment between these programmes.

Place based Investment Programme

  1. The Place Based Investment Programme: A significant five-year programme of coordinated place-based investments.
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In a practical and digital means the Place Standard tool can be used by planners or by stakeholders across the profession to assess existing or new places and to rank or identify areas for change. It is dynamic and arguably easily adapted to differing scenarios or situations.

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Infrastructure Lifecycle Model

“…the concept of an infrastructure lifecycle is a relatively well-known basis from which to begin to address some of the complexity of the infrastructure landscape, although there are variations in how this is described and presented… “. This interactive tool was developed by the Scottish Infrastructure Commission’s work, and identifies five stages of the infrastructure lifecycle.

These include prioritising, planning and structuring, construction and renewal, maintenance and operation then finally decommissioning and evaluation.

The tool can be accessed via

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Waltham Forest’s GovTech Catalyst Challenge

Waltham Forest’s GovTech Catalyst Challenge into Housing Monitoring was referenced as case study in ‘A Digital Future for Planning – page 127’. Whilst this project was funded by GovTech Catalyst Challenge it is a helpful example of where improving, standardising and automating the process of data collection in housing monitoring was undertaken. There are useful lessons that can be learn from this process.

This was a cross-local authority process. The solution is to provide this single point of access to information about development sites status.

‘The vision is to be able to collect data relating to the development process for sites of all sizes and types. This has multiple benefits:

  • We can track the development of homes as planned
  • Build a shared view of a development within the Local Authority and outside at any given time
  • Identify bottlenecks to inform data-driven decisions related to housing delivery
  • Provide more and better-quality data enabling analysis which can improve models in use
  • Reduce time spent by planners and across the Council visiting sites and collating information
  • More easily identify breaches of planning control.’ (A Digital Future for Planning – page 127 –

Housing Land Supply dataset

Further, and specific to the Scottish context the recent Scottish Government planning reforms have introduced (through NPF4, 2023 – Annex E) a process for calculating housing numbers known as Minimum All-Tenure Housing Land Requirement (MATHLR). This is, by its nature, specific to each local authority area and is largely a statistical exercise informing Local Development Plan strategies and implementation of parallel programmes such as Local Housing Strategies.

To group and simplify these data sets however the Improvement Service with support from local authorities’ and regional planning forums, have collated and published datasets containing full details – where available – of site references, site size (hectares), capacity (in housing units), completions, remaining supply and annual forecast phasing over a period of years, also a record of past completions, including aggregations of 2009 and earlier and 2027 and beyond, where these have been grouped as such. Further details of greenfield/brownfield status, tenure, effectiveness (deliverable within the period), constraints, planning details/status and developer are also provided where available. This digital resource may prove useful for stakeholders, planners and delivery bodies to consult in gaining a better understanding of growth strategies, committed and planned housing development.

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Network Planning Tool

Given the close link between transport planning and land use planning it can perhaps be easy to assume that spatial land use data is the primary digital source. Whilst this may be the case in some applications or uses, transport networks are ever evolving and increasingly in their own right, developing digital tools to better integrate and encourage modal shifts or to improve the effectiveness of the transport network.

Sustrans have developed a ‘Networking Planning Tool’ (NPT) which predicts the relative demand for cycling on the majority of streets and paths across Scotland.

This technology and interactive mapping tool will not be fully released until early 2024 but has already been successfully applied in Dundee City Council. There, Sustrans have used the tool alongside the Council’s Cycling Strategy to develop a high-level plan. Consequently, the NPT aligns with the Council’s existing Cycling Strategy, providing additional detail, options and opportunities to compare and contrast a range of map features. This encourages active travel and will enable connectivity and sustainable, healthy travel modes to be further developed across the city and perhaps beyond.

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SYSTRA Scenario Planning Tool

Transport Scotland commissioned SYSTRA in October 2017 to develop a Scenario Planning Process with a Scenario Planning Tool embedded within it. The purpose of this is to understand different future scenarios of transport and land-use in Scotland. The first version of the Scenario Planning Tool has been developed to consider uncertainty over the next 20 years (in line with the National Transport Strategy Review (NTS2) and the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) and allow policies to be assessed against uncertain futures. The Scenario Planning Tool is a simple transport model, in spreadsheet form that is capable of linking the inputs and metrics in relational terms. The model is transparent about its internal construct and related assumptions and has a user interface suitable for the user to stipulate the input values and see the resulting output scenario results.

It is a requirement that the Scenario Planning Tool can operate on commercially available or opensource software. In the same vein, outputs must be suitable for taking into MS Excel for the creation of charts, tables, figures, maps, etc. The tool has been tested in advance of active use to ensure it is producing intuitive results which are credible, coherent and comprehensible.

Integrated land use and transport planning: tools for understanding and predicting – SYSTRA UK

Place Standard Tool

The Place Standard Tool was developed to allow users to think about the physical, social and environmental aspects of their places. This includes whether:

• there is a recognition of culture and identity;

• there is accommodation which meets the needs and demands of all of the community; and

• people feel they have a say in decision making to meet these objectives.

It has been successfully applied and indeed has been found to be a digital tool capable of assessing place aspects across differing demographic and community groups, including those heard less often such as Scotland’s Gypsy traveller community.

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Case Study

Placemaking: NHS Research Paper: Using the Place Standard tool to assess the quality of Gypsy/ Traveller sites (November 2019)

In November 2019, a research paper was published which explored the acceptability and applicability of the Place Standard Tool within the Scottish Gypsy/Traveller community and whether any amendments to the tool might be appropriate to reflect the culture and lifestyle of the community. This case study is an example of the practical application of the digital Place Standard tool with a minority group. The work was completed on behalf of NHS Health Scotland by PAS with Seath Planning Consultancy Ltd. being the lead researcher and co-author.

In the study, the 14 segments which are integral to the Place Standard Tool provided prompts for the research team to generate discussion on all the elements of planning and place that the Gypsy/Traveller communities have experienced in the past and what they need now and in the future. Given the cultural significance of nomadic lifestyles to Gypsy/Traveller communities, the researchers discussed the places where the communities stay at present and had stayed in the past.

The way a place looks, functions and feels is important to everyone and through the application of the Place Standard Tool it is now accepted that this directly contributes to improved health and wellbeing. As described in the Study Gypsy/Travellers experience very significant inequalities in health and wellbeing compared to the Scottish population as a whole. The causes of these inequalities are complex, but factors include a lack of places to stay and a lack of involvement or participation in decision-making. Building on the experience of good practice in some sites in Scotland and elsewhere, the Place Standard Tool could help promote discussion in the community on how to create places of quality, character and identity consistent with the Gypsy/Traveller lifestyle and culture.

20 minute neighbourhood, Portland, Oregon

Collaborative approaches in digitally presenting 20-minute neighbourhoods will be essential moving forward. Data will be at the centre of this, and overcoming sectoral boundaries to present combined solutions. Dynamic mapping platforms will be required to help analyse a range of issues such as open spaces, local services, walking distances, public transport and facilities available to residents within a neighbourhood. Many of these datasets will be already available within local authorities.

It is also important to recognise that whilst a relatively new phraseology, the concept is established and has been part of the Scottish Planning System for some time, albeit with a focus thus far on connectivity and design. The Scottish Futures Trust highlight this alongside related Scottish Government key agencies including Architecture and Design Scotland with relevant digital resources discussed further here and in related series:

The concept has also been undertaken in Portland, Oregon where the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods has been developed over a number of years. Image (a) an infographic showing the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods that is being worked to. Image (b) shows how through the mapping of available data can measure accessibility of services.

‘If a neighborhood achieves a score of 70 or higher, on a scale of zero to 100, it is considered a relatively complete neighborhood. The goal of the strategy is that 90% of the residents to be able to walk or cycle and cover all their needs, except work, within 20 min. In the calculation of the index topographical and geographical elements such as rivers and steep slopes, highways, crossroads and other natural obstacles for pedestrian movement are taken into account. It also records factors that improve the walking experience such as the presence of sidewalks, signage, diversity of routes and connections, access to high quality and frequent public transport, and proximity to core areas of services and activities.’

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