3D goes to town

Three-dimensional computer modelling could revive public interest in `boring' but vital town hall decisions.

Competing pressures over land use are growing, with environmental groups winning support to resist most new development. Yet there is a strong expectation of continued economic growth - and a recent report from two Government departments concluded that the slowness of local authorities in taking planning decisions holds back commercial expansion.

But planning decisions can move away from the dry and boring council committee room and into a forum of open public debate if a system of "3D modelling" is adopted, say the system's authors. New plans would be seen not just on a map, but as virtual reality while pretending to walk down a high street, stroll across a field, or look out from the back garden.

The new system has been developed in the Netherlands, where competing planning pressures on land use are enormous, with a high-density population and one of the world's most heavily used airports, Schipol in Amsterdam, causing noise pollution across a wide area of flat countryside. The Dutch government is keen to achieve a consensus on plans for coping with the expanding air traffic.

"Speaking Netherlands", as the project is called, is currently being implemented in three areas to improve public consultation for contentious planning issues. The "Win-Wind" project enables people to see the visual impact of proposed new wind generators. Another scheme is to plan the evolution of the River Maas, around Maastrict, to reconcile industrial development with the desire to improve the river as a habitat for nesting birds. The third project is to plan development in the Arnhem area.

"We want to get groups to understand each other's needs, to have them understand the urbanisation problem, to have each understand where others are coming from, and reach good compromises," says Ben Heideveld, an IT architect with Cap Gemini, one of the system's developers. "It is only by the grace of so many people living in high rises that there are still open spaces in the Netherlands. But if we go on putting up cities arbitrarily, we will lose all our big corners of open space. And we need to look at skyline pollution, which is a big issue in the Netherlands."

"Speaking Netherlands" builds on an approach known in Britain as "planning for real", where residents affected by a proposed development - such as council tenants whose homes are to be replaced - can move scale models on a board, to produce a development which better suits their needs. It may help mothers or people with disabilities to see the distance between their new homes and shops and other facilities they use, and suggest changes in location. It could assist planners to change road layouts to make public transport more accessible.

But while these exercises can work in planning small localities, they are of limited use for larger areas, Heideveld says. "It is the scale of more than three kilometres [about two miles] which is difficult to understand without flying over in an aeroplane," he suggests. "We need to concentrate more on our large-scale planning process. To do this we need to present plans to people in 3D, moving from the map to the pedestrian perspective."

The 3D modelling works through a Silicon Graphics Octane virtual reality system, while other tools, like the Geo-Kiosk system, can run on an ordinary PC. In the future, it may also be accessible via interactive TV. The consortium that put together the system includes ESRI, a leading provider of geographical information systems (GIS); civil engineering companies; Amsterdam Free University, and planners from the city of Rotterdam, as well as software engineers Cap Gemini.

The proposal for the system came from the Dutch Metropolitan Debate Foundation, which asked a government-backed body, the LWI, to find partners to develop it, and to provide the balance of the funding. The LWI was established to promote a "knowledge infrastructure" across the the Netherlands.

Trials of the scheme took place last year at two conferences - one for interested parties and experts, and the other for members of the public. At each event, there were role-play exercises to make long-term planning decisions, and then the delegates saw how these were implemented over a 10-year period. A new set of planning decisions was then taken, and again the 10-year effects were viewed. Delegates were able, during the course of a day, to see how planning decisions might impact over a 30- year period.

Participants were enthusiastic about creating an environment which not only enabled lobbyists to see the impact of their own proposals, including the knock-on effects, but also encouraged people to take a more consensual approach. In one role-play exercise, environmentalists agreed to drop their opposition to an expansion of Schipol Airport in return for ending reclamation of an ecologically important river. Decisions were taken at the conference by simple votes, but delegates could call a wider referendum for important issues. It might eventually be possible for the Geo-Kiosk system to be consulted by the general public over the Internet for a real referendum to help decide on competing planning proposals.

Planners in Britain are enthusiastic about using the scheme here. A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, said: "This might help planners to speed up the process of determining planning decisions, which we are very keen to achieve."

Ian Gilfoyle, the Royal Town Planning Institute's IT and GIS adviser, added: "We would welcome it. It will help not only the public but also [council] committee members to see what planning proposals really mean. The trouble is that very few local authorities are sufficiently far forward to have a computer system in committee meetings. We need to develop ideas like this for decision-makers.

"In the past, the technology has been in the lead, and really it is the planners and the system users who have to get in the driving seat to get what we want."

It is to be hoped that 3D modelling will also increase public interest in a process that is often seen as too boring to pay attention to, even though it has a strong impact on our lives.

Making planning sexy would indeed be a real achievement.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?