Rapidly Processing Planning Data with FME

For most Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), processing development proposals requires manual processing at almost every step. The tasks involved are time-consuming, arduous, and represent a burden on tight budgets. We used FME to remove the need for so much human intervention in the process. This cut the time needed to prepare vital reference data used for cross-checking each proposal.


The SSSI Impact Risk Zones (IRZ) Dataset

When making the call on proposals, LPAs refer to the SSSI Impact Risk Zones dataset, published and updated bi-monthly by Natural England. If a planned development falls within a zone where risk has been identified for that type (e.g. residential), Natural England must be consulted.

The dataset contains information on Sites of Special Scientific Interest and their surrounding Impact Risk Zones (IRZs) across England and Wales. The aim of the dataset is to highlight where sensitivities to different types of development exist. It is structured as below:

If an entry appears in the column, a constraint exists within that zone for that particular type of development. For example, if an LPA received an application for a solar farm within the zone indicated by the first record, they would need to approach Natural England. No entry in the column for what’s been proposed? The LPA can proceed with the decision-making process themselves.


Current Process

The process of preparing and cross-checking the SSSI dataset is difficult. Many use GIS tools like MapInfo Pro to inspect and analyse the raw dataset before splitting it out to separate files for each individual constraint. These files are then loaded into a central planning system.

As the dataset consists of over 90,000 records, any GIS charged with handling it all often struggles. When areas are being clipped and many different maps created and prepared for the planning system, the process is slow. Natural England update their dataset every 2 months, so LPAs run the process semi-regularly.

When a proposal is submitted, the LPA will refer to the data they’ve created to determine if any relevant constraints are in-effect at that location. They will then either continue to make a decision or consult Natural England.


Using FME to Speed-up Manual Processing

Following a recent FME training session with a local council, a delegate approached our trainer and told him about their problem. In around 20 minutes, he had created a time-saving workflow to take the pain out of the process. Here’s what it does…

  1. Reads-in the SSSI and IRZ dataset, along with the council’s boundary polygon.
  2. Reprojects the data to ensure the user is working with consistent and compatible formats.
  3. Clips the SSSI and IRZ dataset to the boundary polygon – discarding everything outside of this area.
  4. Creates a MapInfo .tab file including all the constraints present within the area.
  5. Creates a separate .tab file for each possible constraining theme (e.g. wind & solar farms/airports/waste disposal sites).

There’s also scope for adding a transformer to load each of the outputs into a planning system, on completion of the workflow.

We’ve put this article together to show just how simple creating something in FME that saves both time and resource can be. In less than a lunch break, we’ve made a 180MB (in GeoDatabase format) dataset more manageable – so that valuable info can be extracted quickly and easily. We really hope that this inspires you to get the most out of your data and create something that makes your own job a little bit easier!


Having problems?  You can always get in touch!

What processes do you think you could streamline with FME? Let us know in the comments section.