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Review shows geospatial data problems for planning and housing


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Significant problems with geospatial data are undermining its value for planning and housing development, according to a new government backed report.

This is creating the need for measures including more work on metadata standards, raising relevant skills in local authorities, and improving the wider understanding of geospatial data.

The findings come in the new Planning and Housing Landscape Review compiled by Newgate Research for the Geospatial Commission. It is based on interviews with 100 organisations, a telephone survey of 126 local authorities and a targeted literature review.

It identifies a problem in much of the geospatial data being held by councils and utilities providers failing to meet the criteria of being findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), with the lack of standards having resulted in widespread differences in how it had been collected, collated and made available.

The lack of interoperability has made it difficult to use much of the data in local authority systems and affected the quality and objectivity of decision making in the planning process. This creates a need for the standardisation of metadata and schema.

Companies told the researchers that they would benefit from more data, made available more quickly in a more granular form – especially on features such as land co-ordinates and public land ownership, utilities and amenities, building and planning, residential lettings, local amenities, traffic, demographics and household incomes.

In addition, over half of the councils interviewed said there are shortages of skills and resources for using geospatial data, while companies are looking for data scientists and engineers. This is compounded by little-to-no use of external professional development or membership of professional bodies.

Four priorities

In response, the review suggests four priorities to address the problems.

One is to improve collaboration between public and private sector organisations to ensure data on planning and housing can be linked with that from other domains, such as transport, health and education. A starting point would be the principle of improving access and agreement on metadata standards, specifically spatial references, identifiers and dates.

Another is to find an agreement on core data requirements and support the development of a minimum degree of skills related to geographic information systems in local authorities. This should come with setting up shared fora for council staff to build networks of geospatial practice and professional development.

Thirdly, there is a need for an effort to raise awareness among data engineers and software developers of the opportunities in the planning and housing sector. The next generation of specialists in these areas should be data practitioners.

Finally, there should be an effort to give organisations’ leaders a better understanding of geospatial data, showcasing the art of the possible, to encourage investment in its use.

Critically important

Geospatial Commission director Thalia Baldwin said: “Location data is critically important to those operating within the planning and housing sectors. We have published this review of the housing location data landscape to help make it easier to understand what is happening in this complex area. 

“The Geospatial Commission will be working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Homes England, HM Land Registry and across the housing and planning sector to consider our collective priorities for location data improvement.”

Image from iStock, Samuel Foster

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