The collaborative project between Queen’s School of Natural and Built Environment and VU.CITY is awarded top grade of ‘Outstanding’ from Innovate UK for the development of interactive 3D model; PlanTech

 VU.CITY is a game-changing, powerful digital twin of our cities that supports its users in creating, refining, and sharing the journey of city transformation to create the best possible city for all. These digital twins help save time and money throughout the planning and design process, aiding better decision making. The overall objective of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project was to develop a 3D interactive model which is seamlessly embedded within the inherently complex processes of the planning system and which supports emerging user requirements to collaborate, instantaneously understand and evaluate planning development proposals, and specify the barriers which must be overcome in order to obtain planning consent.

KTP Associate, Justin McHenry joined the VU.CITY team in 2019 to bridge this knowledge gap between academia and business. Working with the guidance of expert academics, Dr Philip Boland and Dr Stephen McKay from Queen’s School of Natural and Built Environment, company supervisors Jamie Holmes, Kevin Francis and Anthony Jenkins and KTN Advisor, Joel Ferguson, Justin developed the project framework and specification roadmap for the VU.CITY model to meet the evolving interdisciplinary and multi-sector needs of the natural and built environment professions along with growing the product’s accessibility to, and functionality for, new stakeholders. 

The academic and practical planning information extracted during the project was incorporated within the digital VU.CITY platform using the company’s digital expertise and easily accessed by the end user via the user interface.

Collaboration is at the heart of every KTP. Justin linked the theoretical and practical application of planning policy with the product, engineering and leadership teams within the business which brought clarity, accuracy and relevance to the strategy.


With the news of the Outstanding Grade, Justin commented:

The KTP project between VU.CITY and QUB have been incredible experiences for me. Working with, and learning from, such a fantastic, innovative, supportive, and dedicated team of outstanding academics and top professionals on this novel project exploring the future of digital planning reform and PlanTech has been truly amazing. To have supported the design, delivery and continuous evolution of VU.CITY in a way that has helped to reduce the complexities of the planning system, make it more transparent, efficient and accessible, and meet the needs of our users within cross-disciplinary built and natural environment projects is something which I am extremely proud of.


The future is looking bright for VU.CITY. As a trusted advisor to their public and private sector clients, the company is no longer just a pioneering technology provider but is also a thought leader with expertise in their field and a better understanding of the processes and policies that their software can support.


VU.CITY CEO, Jamie Holmes said:

Having academic support for real-world business applications brings benefits to all parties. And ensuring that this knowledge is then embedded back into the business leads to significant long term benefits.


The ongoing partnership has endorsed a proactive approach in VU.CITY’s implementation of new functionality, due to internal understanding of the user needs. The company now engage and test out their Student Licencing approach within Queen’s University Belfast, which now incorporate specific VU.CITY modules into their curriculum.


Justin attributes the KTP Team success to the dedicated parties involved in bringing this idea to life:

The opportunities provided by QUB’s Phil Boland and Stephen McKay to allow me to help educate the next generation of planners and professionals with the latest digital skills and cutting-edge technologies, along with co-authoring an international, peer-reviewed, academic journal article, has been an absolute honour. Not to mention my gratitude to the team and excitement to be continuing our collaboration and research through a PhD in October.

I cannot thank Phil Boland and Stephen McKay from QUB Planning, and Jamie Holmes, Kevin Francis, and Anthony Jenkins from VU.CITY enough for their support, guidance and commitment to not only progressing a tremendous project but ensuring optimum support for my career and personal development.

A continuing partnership was established between QUB and VU.CITY showcases the power of collaboration between the public and private sector in engaging in innovative, impactful, knowledge exchange and user-centric product development. 


Dr Philip Boland commented on the united team working for a common purpose:

It is a testament to the cooperation and excellent working relationship between VU.CITY and Queen’s, the commitment of Jamie, Kevin, and Anthony and the outstanding drive and determination of Justin. Through the KTP, the journal paper and Justin’s future PhD we have taken PlanTech to a new level. Exciting times are ahead for us all.


The scale and degree of achievement were significantly exceeded in this KTP project, with a clear understanding of planning policy and a future development roadmap to meet user needs outlined. We look forward to watching VU.CITY continues to thrive and grow.

As mentioned above, with support from VU.CITY and Queen’s University Belfast, Justin will be undertaking a prestigious ESRC NINE PhD in October 2021.

Congratulations to the entire team involved – a true showcase for innovation in the industry.


KTPs are funded by UKRI through Innovate UK with the support of co-funders, including the Scottish Funding Council, Welsh Government, Invest Northern Ireland, Defra and BEIS. Innovate UK manages the KTP programme and facilitates its delivery through a range of partners including the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Knowledge Bases and Businesses. Each partner plays a specific role in the support and delivery of the programme.

If you have an innovative business idea and would like to see if a KTP could help take it forward, contact us at or visit KTP FOR BUSINESS


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