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Algorithms rule, OK?

By GeoConnexion - 29th October 2020 - 12:03

Research conducted by the Connected Places Catapult and summarised by Nelio Matos and Sebastien Herman on page 44 casts grave doubt on central government’s ambition to deliver on its target of 300,000 new homes a year by 2025. Stuart Bonthrone of Esri UK has his own take on the subject on page 53

Boris Johnson agrees that reform is needed: “What we have now simply does not work. So let’s do better. Let’s make the system work for all of us. And let’s take big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homes we all need and the future we all want to see.” His Forward to the Government’s recently-published White Paper on tackling the housing crisis in England sets the tone for an ambitious end-to-end shake-up of the municipal planning system.1

Local Plans come under particular scrutiny, with the proposal that local authorities be mandated to produce stripped back versions within 30 months as opposed to the current average of seven years. They should include ‘an interactive web-based map of the administrative area where data and policies are easily searchable, with colour-coded maps reflecting the zoning, key and accompanying text setting out suitable development uses, as well as limitations on height and/or density as relevant’

In its top-down, digital-first approach, the White Paper proposes a new formula - an algorithm, no less – that will decide where and how much housing will be built. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has helpfully summarised it in the following expression:

Adjustment Factor = [( Local affordability factor t = 0 – 4 4) x 0.25) + (Local affordability ratio t = 0 – Local affordability ratio t = 10) x 0.25] +1

Where t = 0 is current year and t = -10 is 10 years back.

Clear enough?

Needless to say, the White Paper – now open to consultation - has drawn fire from the likes of Theresa May who has branded it “ill-conceived and mechanistic,” and which “does not guarantee a single extra home being built.” With ‘mutant’ algorithms fresh in our memory from this year’s A Level fiasco, and with growing disquiet over the use of other algorithms – from visa streaming to Covid-19 Track and Trace to facial recognition software - how much faith would you have in this latest proposal?

1. ‘Planning for the future’ White Paper. August 2020. (

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