Waltham Forest Council could start using virtual reality or even images from space to help new build homes, depending on the results of a Government-funded competition.

The council spends an estimated £750,000 a year tracking the progress of housing projects around the borough and wants to find a cheaper, more streamlined way to do so.

The Government’s GovTech Catalyst scheme (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/govtech-catalyst-information), set up in 2018, gives public bodies like councils £3.25 million each to pay private firms to find high-tech solutions to their problems.

Previous rounds of the scheme have sought to solve problems like identifying terrorist images online or how to deal with loneliness in rural communities.

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In 2019, Waltham Forest Council posed the question of how to use “better geospatial intelligence”, namely sophisticated mapping, to “accelerate the building of new housing”.

It was allowed to choose five companies to give a budget of £50,000 each and from December 2019 to April 2020 to work on the problem.

Next week, it will choose two of these five companies to go onto the next phase, where they will have £500,000 each and a year to continue working, before the council picks the winner.

The council has no obligation to purchase the winning solution and has received all the money involved from the Government scheme.

A report prepared for the cabinet, who will pick two companies in private on February 26, explains the council wants to replace “the resource intensive manual methods” it uses now.

The report explains: “Currently, developers engage at 26 different points with (the council), often providing the same data at each point, and making it hard to identify where council processes may be causing barriers to the progress of delivering new homes.

“There is huge potential for a reduction in costs for developers and the council in the future through better understanding “process pain points” and being better able to streamline processes.

“An improved developer journey in Waltham Forest also has the potential to promote increased investment by the developer community.”

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The five companies chosen to receive £50,000 were Stevenson Astrosat, Connected Places Catapult, BoCreate, 7GenAnalytics, and Juice Immersive.

The report notes only four are eligible to continue onto the next phase but did not explain which company was excluded or why.

The website for Stevenson Astrosat explains it “takes data from space and presents it visually to help people understand and improve the planet”, such as by tracking illegal logging.

Meanwhile, Juice Immersive says it uses “immersive technology” such as virtual reality to solve a wide range of problems.

A report prepared by Connected Places Catapult in 2019 suggests the possibility of using “machine learning” to identify where to build new housing.

The solutions produced by the two companies chosen will be assessed by the council and GovTech Catalyst specialists, with any unused funding returned to the scheme.

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