Planners Play Minecraft

The Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority in Wales has decided to take its planning policy to a whole new level and has launched itself into cyberspace. Planning in the real world always attracts critics, but the Authority has decided to bite the bullet and enter the sometimes Zombie infested arena of online gameplay where rather than writing in complaint, detractors can attack you with swords and even blow you up.

Undeterred, the National Park Policy team has worked with the Authority’s IT department on a pilot project to produce a virtual model of the famous border town of Hay-on-Wye in Microsoft’s popular online game to engage the local community in producing a plan for development in the Town.

The Authority’s mapping expert has recreated the infrastructure of the town but the Authority has turned to experts to make the shops and houses resemble the real world – initially working with a schoolboy visiting the Authority on work experience, the Authority has now recruited a group of 14 and 15 year olds who are busily working on the virtual Hay-on-Wye. The Hay Festival Scribblers, a group of young writers and Minecraft experts, have been busy transforming ‘Minecraft Hay’ to feature shop fronts such as the famous Richard Booth’s Bookshop and Shepherds Ice Cream Parlour. (See images)

Planner Helen Lucoq was part of the original team who developed the idea to use the Lego-like world to help young people understand planning, commented: “In the past we have had difficulty getting communities to fully engage in the process of writing a plan. Imagining the issues and then thinking them through to resolution is a tough ask, and because of that the arguments around what is the best for an area tend to be conducted between planning professionals, both council planners and developers, those people who know how to speak ‘planning language.’ Ironically the virtual world of Minecraft can make planning real to future generations.”

The Authority’s mapping specialist said: “I have had to learn a whole set of new skills to build Hay in Minecraft but it has been fascinating – I cannot believe how good the kids are at manipulating the world online. The real challenge was trying to find ways to help users understand planning by using visual zones which show what the Local Development Plan will allow to be built where. Fields of different coloured flowers show areas available for building housing or for commercial uses.”

Hay Festival Scribbler, Finn, aged thirteen said: “To start with I loved the idea of being able to blow things up in Hay but now I have spent so much time making it look beautiful I don’t want to blow it up – well not my bits anyway!! It’s very thought provoking trying to work out how to fit houses into the space so that they would still be nice to live in. The more I play with this project the more interesting it is!”