South Ayrshire increases public engagement in planning

Innovative use of Story Maps led to South Ayrshire Council winning an Esri UK Customer Success Award this year, in the Tell Your Story Using a Map category. Murray Roden, Esri UK Customer Success Manager, examines how the council transformed the online presentation of its Local Development Plan, generating more public views than ever before.

Local Development Plans (LDPs) present the vision for how communities will grow and develop in the future. Providing certainty for the public and investors about where development should and should not happen, they secure land for specific uses, such as housing and industry.

Explaining the council’s strategy for change, South Ayrshire’s LDP sets out its spatial priorities and policies and every planning application is assessed against it. Traditionally, the LDP had been presented as an interactive map but the scale and complexity of the plans meant it was difficult to navigate and interpret. Some functions also assumed a certain level of GIS skill, which was a barrier to its use in the wider community.

Using an Esri UK Story Map, the council’s GIS team has created a refreshing new approach, which combines maps, text, graphics and photographs to bring development proposals to life. Dramatically simplifying the presentation of the LDP, it has become more interactive and easier to digest by every stakeholder, from local citizens to potential developers.

The Map Journal template intuitively guides users through the LDP, improving the customer journey. Instead of one complex map, a series of focused maps are now displayed, which are all linked to imagery of the area and the narrative from the LDP, explaining what the user is seeing. Now the public can explore information relating to their local area more easily and zoom in to maps to review priority projects. The ability to link maps, narrative and high quality imagery also helps promote the area to potential developers, something that could not be achieved with the previous map.

Pivotal in the future growth and development of South Ayrshire, the new approach has opened up the planning process to the public, making it easier to understand and work with. Since it went live, South Ayrshire Council has seen a huge increase in public engagement, with the Story Map generating 56% more views in its first two months, than the previous document achieved in the whole of 2015.

Local Development Plans need to be clear and accessible by everybody. Story Maps have transformed the interpretation of South Ayrshire’s LDP and improved the customer experience in this complex but critical area.