Going viral

It is impossible to ignore the impact that coronavirus is having on all our lives and, as we highlighted in last month’s Spotlights, the planning system has a role to play in supporting people and businesses through this pandemic.

For example, the Scottish Government has called for planning authorities to relax the use of their enforcement powers to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to food delivery over the period of the coronavirus, and that stores can remain open to serve the local community.

Meantime in England, the Government is legislating to allow pubs and restaurants to temporarily operate as hot food takeaways without requiring planning permission for the change of use.

Whilst these are positive responses to the current challenges, it did get us wondering what a world might look like in which our homes, offices and public places made living and working in such circumstances more comfortable, and avoided some of the stressful situations we now find ourselves in, such as panic buying, social distancing and working at home with your partner/family (however much you love them!). And, given how much many of us use technology to do our jobs, keep in touch with family and friends, and keep ourselves entertained, we particularly wondered what Smart Cities might have to offer.

Smart Cities use the potential offered by technological innovations and data to maximise the use of urban resources, such as transport, energy and health care, to improve the lives of urban residents and become more responsive to their needs. Sounds like just what we need right now.

Below are just a few ways in which Smart Cities technology could assist in situations such as we are currently experiencing.

Social distancing

  • There is an obvious role for smart fridges to not just create grocery lists that sync to your smartphone in real-time, but which also automatically send that list to your local supermarket (or ideally, local independent retailers who have been playing a sterling role over the last few weeks), and for the food to then be delivered directly to your home (such technology may already exist of course, it’s just outwith our experience!).
  • It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to extend the same principle to our medicine cabinets, making them smart enough to send an automatic repeat prescription to the pharmacist, relieving pressure on them at what is a difficult and stressful time.
  • Deliveries of groceries and medicine could then be made by drone (a technology already been well used), avoiding the need for human contact.
  • Alternatively, autonomous cars or robots could be used for these, as has been done in China and in the United States where they have been used for the delivery of sanitary supplies, masks and antibacterial gels to assist with managing coronavirus, with autonomous cars also offering the potential for passenger pick up and transportation to essential appointments without the risk of a sick person being their driver, or indeed of them passing on any virus they may be carrying themselves.
  • Walking and cycling apps could highlight quiet routes in real time, allowing you to use your allotted outdoor time without the fear of bumping into anyone with the virus.

Virus detection

  • Scientists at Oxford University are already exploring the feasibility of a coronavirus mobile app for instant contact tracing which they claim that, if rapidly and widely deployed, could significantly help to contain the spread of the virus by identifying infected people and their recent person-to-person contacts, and contacting them to advise them to isolate.
  • More sinisterly, once someone has been identified as carrying the virus, surveillance of those individuals could be carried out by cameras in public spaces, licence plate readers, mobile device data gathered from telecommunications companies or even, as done in China, through the use of facial recognition technology to keep track of any quarantine violators and issue warnings to them.
  • Lastly, while there were reports of temperatures being taken at some airports in the early days of the virus spreading (while people were still travelling), artificial intelligence contactless technology could roll this out further at all transportation hubs, supermarkets or other places where people might gather to check their temperatures and identify those who might be infected.


  • Virtual and augmented reality can allow us to escape and holiday from home when we need to get away from the real world and our new work colleagues (our families!), without having to leave our living room, with doing so apparently also having proven results in terms of improved health and wellbeing!

Of course, not all of these innovations are positive, and some bring with them significant legal and ethical challenges, but embracing the good could help future proof us against the next pandemic. But, as many people currently self-isolating will be only too well aware, there really is no substitute for face to face interaction.

Meantime, to find out how we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at info@auroraplanning.co.uk. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.

Thanks for reading.

*Cover image by jeferrb from Pixabay