Planning Application assessments; automation using ArcPy

The Machine by halfrain

The Machine by halfrain

Archaeogeomancy were pleased to be commissioned to build a system to automate an existing workflow for handling and reporting on geospatial information. The workflow is used by a major land management organisation for evaluating and responding to planning applications on behalf of their clients, the property or landowners. Automation allows non-specialists to undertake the map production and saves considerable time and money. 


Currently, the workflow entails the centralised production of thematic maps by GIS specialists showing categorised planning applications for each land holding plus overview maps for regions, particular classes of development and for Great Britain as a whole. This production process is a manual operation involving the creation of spatial layers from source tabular data (supplied as csv files), filtering based on relevance criteria and finally production of maps and tables using predefined templates. The maps and tables are then distributed to and used by local teams to make their assessments of the planning applications.

Solution: Automation

The project output comprised an ArcGIS Toolbox which could be used by non-specialists using just a couple of clicks, saving the client a number of days of GIS specialist person time per month, a not inconsiderable cost saving. The tools provided ingest the source tabular data, categorise it (based on a number of defined criteria) before augmenting it with additional data using spatial functions and finally producing sets of pdf maps and xls tables to the clients specification. The use of the toolkit also builds up an archive of planning application data over time, making it easier to find and check historic records. The process can be run as a single operation or any part of the process from initial accessioning of source data to final outputting of maps and tables can be undertaken separately as needed.

The project made extensive use of the ArcPy Python libraries to do the processing and manipulation of tabular data combined with Data Driven Pages to output the maps for each region, each property and a national overview. The output package is structured to allow for the relevant detailed components to be easily distributed to each regional team for assessment with overviews and summaries for managers.

Custom Python tools were implemented a) to allow for configuration settings to be stored in a config file, facilitating installation/configuration by system administrators and b) for distance calculations (the in built ArcGIS tools not being available at the license level used for deployment by the client).

Whilst this system is aimed at planning application assessments, a similar approach could be used in a variety of contexts, indeed any situation where potential impacts on receptors need to be reported on; this would include all manner of Environmental Impact Assessments, Local Development Frameworks and suchlike.