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Tech startup uses AI to shake up town planning

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A Gold Coast startup is using AI to streamline and simplify development applications to allow planning consultants to focus on town planning rather than report writing.

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The brainchild of architect and former Urban Development Institute of Australia Gold Coast President and Place Design Group Director Finn Jones, Urpla is the latest venture to join the thread of future focused technologies and businesses emerging from the Gold Coast.

Three years in the making, Urpla aims to accelerate and simplify development applications without compromising on quality. The software utilises artificial intelligence technology to analyse and compare historical data and current data to get the right requirements and information that apply to each development site and development application.

With an extensive background in architecture, urban design and development, Jones was driven to launch Urpla when he realised there was a divide between the time and resources planners utilised towards preparing development applications rather than channelling their skills towards urban design outcomes.

“It was frustrating seeing all these tertiary educated men and women who were wasting their skills on the administration of report writing rather than the outcomes we could get for cities,” explained Jones.

“There’s not enough critical thinking because there’s so much focus on report writing for an application.

“That was a big push for me. We need town planners and we need them operating at their best. We need them focused on their roles not the tedium of writing reports,” he said.

The fast-growing nature of the Gold Coast coupled with good structure around planning schemes and Jones’ self-professed soft spot for the city saw the region chosen as Urpla’s first launch city.

“My focus was always on how do we create better cities for people. I wanted it for the Gold Coast.

“I said let’s make Gold Coast our focus and launch here. Let’s get our systems in place and focus on Queensland.

“We are testing a number of south-east Queensland markets at the moment, with the rest of Australia very much on the horizon,” he said.

Jones said Urpla had the potential to revolutionise the planning industry the same way Xero transformed accounting.

“We’ve had a full year of testing and tested more than 500 application types, applying close to 100,000 variables to the application types.

“What we found was the average application was absorbing approximately 12 – 14 hours of report writing time. What we’re hoping to show the industry is that we’ve got that report writing time down to an hour, leaving planners to focus on the planning outcomes.

“We automate the bits that can be automated. We don’t do the planning.

“It reinforces planning schemes. It aligns with what councils want, and because of its clarity, it helps industry align to it as well.

“It creates efficiency on both sides.

“We want to deliver that value back to planners, better outcomes for cities and create development that is wanted by communities,” said Jones.

While Urpla was originally launched as a tool for town planners, Jones said the start-up has fielded enquiries from a number of major players across the region.

“We’re seeing it has value across that broader building and construction industry.

“Since we developed all the tech around it, we’ve actually had enquiries from real estate agents, developers as well as banks and financial institutions, builders and government.

We’ve also got architects and building designers looking at it as well,” said Jones.

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