Ed | Nov. 22, 2020, 9:43 p.m.

After doing some research on Neighbourhood Plans, I found there was no publicly accessible and up to date source showing all areas with plans in force.

Screenshot of Planfinder

Screenshot of Planfinder

I decided that a directory of all areas with a Neighbourhood Plan would be a useful addition to my website. Being able to easily locate plans would make it easier for developers to find plans (and therefore ensure they design their development proposals to conform with the rules set out in those plans), and would make it easier for those communities writing plans to locate other plans in their local area.

I was aware that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government undertake some monitoring of the progress of Neighbourhood Plans. I sent a 'Freedom of information Act' request to MHCLG, who provided me their data.

Whilst the dataset provided a lot of useful info, I realised it was incomplete. I performed both automated and manual searches of local authority websites to identify further areas with Neighbourhood Plans in force, and I update the dataset each month as new plans pass the referendum stage.

At first I held the data in a spreadsheet and showed the data in a filtered table on a webpage, controlled using a javascript function. However, even after moving to a MS Access database, it was still very onerous to update - at which point I realised the data needed to be held in a web-based application.

The Planfinder was my first 'serious' django app. This simple app provides data about Neighbourhood Plans, including links to the plan itself. I added related models for local authority, county and national parks allowing users to search using various different geographies.

The app is easy to use since its main interface is a simple search box - the user types a search term and the results are listed in a table on a 'search results' page. The trickiest part in building the app was structuring the query to provide relevant results when performing searches. I am pleased with the final product, which appears to provide good, reliable results for any search term.

I became a bit obsessed with collecting data on new Neighbourhood Plans as they emerge. Collecting the data also gave me plenty of material to blog about. In spring 2020, I realised the number of Neighbourhood Plans in force exceeded a thousand.

From my blog, I was able to quickly break the news that this important milestone had been reached - ahead of the government, who made a big deal out of this acheivement through their official publications some time later.

I regularly export the Planfinder data to a Google map which shows areas with a Neighbourhood Plan, as points based on addresses. Next, using geodjango I would like to develop this spatial aspect further, to show the actual boundaries that the Neighbourhood Plan applies to. However, in practice this would be quite a complex project, since Neighbourhood Plans do not always follow existing administrative boundaries.

Click the button to launch the Planfinder.

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