More accurate town planning thanks to ITRC’s Urban Development Model

The ITRC’s Urban Development Model (UDM) is a new research tool which can be used to identify areas in the UK suitable for future residential development along with the types of dwellings needed at a previously unheard of level of detail.

UDM draws on the work from ITRC’s PopNation tool, a projection of people and households over the next decades at a high spatial resolution to model, analyse and understand infrastructure demand. The UDM team assigns these households to the residential building stock across several possible future scenarios.

Modelling future town planning with confidence

UDM will allow policymakers and planners to view predictions and scenarios with a degree of confidence and detail previously unattainable, allowing users to look at links between dwellings and infrastructure needs, such as electricity or drainage to a much finer level of detail than before, to household level rather than authority level.

For the first time planners have a tool which will allow them to look ten or twenty years into the future and accurately answer questions such as how much new residential housing we will need and what type and size of dwellings will be needed. It can also identify areas of the UK where there will be shortfalls in land and how suitable areas are for different development scenarios.

Modelling scenarios for the Cambridge-Oxford Arc

Professor Stuart Barr, ITRC’s expert in geospatial data analysis is based at Newcastle University and he and his team are developing the new tool.

Working with the National Infrastructure Commission, they are using UDM to model the Cambridge-Oxford Arc where 1 million new homes are proposed in the Oxford, Cambridge, Northampton and Milton Keynes area. This will allow policymakers and other stakeholders to go beyond previously coarse and aggregate population estimates and plans for developments to drill down into detail.

ITRC’s work on the Cambridge-Oxford Arc gives an incredible level of detail, down to scenarios involving different levels and types of household stock such as early starter accommodation, and larger, more affluent homes. It also takes into account the changing nature of households such as the impact of couples starting families later.

Impact of climate change

Much of UDM’s work currently is in the context of planning around climate adaptation and climate risks, especially around London. UDM is being used to investigate how much and where new development is required in London to minimize the risk of fluvial and tidal storm surge flooding and heat island effects. The team is also able to use scenarios to look at how new developments could satisfy access to good quality transport, minimise urban sprawl and how best to minimise impact on urban green space.

Future plans

The level of detail UDM generates will allow planners to cater more carefully and accurately for housing stock and associated amenities and infrastructure, such as proximity or access to centres of employment, existing and proposed road and rail transport links, and impacts on congestion and the environment.

Scenarios can look at options such as self-sustaining new towns, multiple new smaller developments, and whether enough land is available to meet proposed developments.

By the end of the Cambridge-Oxford Arc pilot project, ITRC will have a tool in UDM that other people can put to use. They will be able to plug in their data and to see the impact on their area. It could also be integrated into the Data & Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) initiative, for example.