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Monitoring Construction with Satellites and Machine Learning

The challenge

Housing needs change contiguously with the size and economic status of the population, and as the UK population continues to move towards cities and other large urban areas the demand for housing in these areas has grown. Simultaneous to the increase in population concentration in cities, the creation of new homes has been steadily decreasing since the 1960s resulting in house price inflation that far exceeds the consumer price index.  

In the London Borough of Waltham Forest alone it is estimated that between 2006 and 2026 the population will increase by between 12.7% and 17.4%. To combat the housing deficit this will create, and contribute to the UK Government’s target to have 300,000 new homes built in England each year by the mid 2020s, Waltham Forest Council (WFC) have set an ambitious target to build 18,000 new council homes between 2019 and 2029. To increase housing delivery and meet new targets it is essential to understand current housing delivery.  

What we are doing

To assist WFC in monitoring developments of all sizes and types to build an accurate picture of development status from permission to completion and occupation, Astrosat are developing a  demonstrator that solves their main problems relating to data, and ascertaining accurate construction timelines.  

By blending existing Council owned datasets (such as planning documents and council tax records) with other datasets (such as postal address file) we aim to build an accurate timeline of development, using an API gateway to ingest various sources of data at the backend into a cloud-based database. To this we will add data derived from satellites that monitor the progress of construction at distinct stages of the building process. Machine learning will be used to infer, train and refine our prediction models, enabling the system to self-learn and improve as better-quality construction data becomes available. The outputs from the data will feed into a front-end client application – a dashboard of construction data that will allow WFC to visualise, monitor, track and interrogate the progress of construction activities to aid planning and decision making. 

This project, Accelerating Housing Delivery, is commissioned by WFC with the support of SBRI: the Small Business Research Initiative funding under a GovTech Catalyst Challenge. 

How we are doing it

Data aggregation  

Astrosat will integrate a range of Council owned datasets to deliver a single, coherent timeline of development across the borough. Where existing applications lack an  API we will work with WFC to identify the most appropriate data export/import mechanism in order to maximise the reuseability and utility of  data already available to the Council. 

Construction from Space  

Earth Observation data from satellites will be used to automatically identify and classify construction start and the different stages as it progresses. This technology has been developed, verified, and validated through a separate project by Astrosat and the University of Leicester to identify with a high degree of confidence, the commencement and progress of construction.  

Data Science  

Machine learning will generate an accurate predicted project delivery timeline through the analysis of historic data. As well as using historic data to train and validate machine learning models, data on new construction projects will be continuously fed  into the model to ensure it is continuously validated and improved.  


The insights and intelligence inferred from the aggregation and processing of the vast wealth of datasets will be presented in user-friendly dashboards using Astrosat’s geospatial data visualisation, analytics, and decision support platform ORBIS. 


Who is involved?

GovTech Catalyst   

GovTech Catalyst is a £20 million fund, established to help solve public sector problems (called ‘challenges’) using innovative digital technology.  To be selected for funding, the public sector team must describe a current public sector service or policy delivery problem which: has no current solution, needs an innovative digital solution, and will bring better public services or reduce costs.  They must also be willing to buy the digital solution at the end of the process.    

Waltham Forest Council  

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a local authority area in Northeast London.  They aspire to creating liveable neighbourhoods, where people have access to quality housing and the services and facilities that they need, along with vibrant town centres that have thriving shops, restaurants and entertainment.  


Stevenson Astrosat Ltd (Astrosat) is an Earth Observation (EO) and downstream space-services company, and specialist in developing space-based solutions to solve earth-bound problems, with expertise in data aggregation and data visualisation.  

Barton Willmore  

Barton Willmore is an independent planning consultancy. For this project they are providing expert guidance on the planning system and development industry, user testing and advice on the wider commercial applicability of the proposed solution. As the UK’s leading independent planning and design consultancy, Barton Willmore will allocate planning specialists who have experience of bringing forward housing sites in London and the Southeast, including within the London Borough of Waltham Forest. They will guide Astrosat to develop a solution that responds to the existing planning system, is informed by emerging changes to the planning system (White Paper Planning for the Future August 2020), reflects industry terminology, and fits within development industry processes. Specifically, their knowledge of the development processes and  key milestones; from the granting of planning permission through to the commencement of construction and completion. As a Practice with over 13 offices nationwide (including Wales and Scotland where planning regimes differ) they can help Astrosat develop a toolset that is also applicable to other local authorities across the UK. They can also provide insights into the interest that other public bodies, developers and the private sector will have in the toolset.