The Public Land Map Discussion

We held an online event earlier in the week with the Community Land Advisory Service. We got together a group of charities, non-profit organisations and businesses to discuss the benefits of mapping public land. Here are main issues raised and the conclusion by Land Technologies.

Not all land is registered – mapping it all will be hard
Councils have lists of their own land holding, but often their list is not accurate since land ownership hasn’t changed hands in a long time and title deeds documents go missing. Let’s get the known land published first.

Greater community involvement needed
There needs to be more efforts from councils to support communities that want to improve land to develop their neighbourhoods. They need to find ways to identify problem/unused bits of land and reach out to the community to see how it can be used better for temporary or long term uses. How can they reach the community better? Who do individuals talk to understand what can be changed and co-ordinate action?

Case studies
Case studies are an excellent way to demonstrate communities coming together to change places for their needs. It’s a powerful way to get across the impact of new projects. Locality and My Community Rights have some good case studies.

Highlighting the economic benefits for community engagement
Councils would be encouraged to work more with community groups if there was clear economic evidence that the co-operation could bring. Perhaps Locality and the LGA could help with funding projects that help communities across the country.

Working together
Councils need to work together to provide new services that are more affordable than just commissioning new services themselves.  New start-ups and social enterprises should help connect councils and other organisations to bring about change. For a national project such as mapping public land, this would need to happen to make it possible.

Connecting to research in this area
We’re not aware of related research projects. Organisations such as the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University might be able to help. If you’re aware of any related research, please contact us.


Whilst it’s extremely useful to see the location of public land on a map, it’s more important to provide information that helps people achieve their specific goals. Local authorities don’t have the finance to provide additional services to help with land needs. Some councils provide support for finding land for allotments, housing land and temporary use but it seems like most do not.

Freedom of Information requests directly help people with their specific goals, but are so costly that government wants to reduce the power of FOI requests. Having open information about land would not only reduce council officers work, but enable new websites to provide new services.

The need for benchmarking

Councils already can be compared in many ways, from how quickly they process planning applications to how they are spending their money. We should have benchmarks for how transparent they are about assets that they own and their process for managing and selling these assets. This would make it easy to compare councils in terms of their asset holdings and efficiencies.

The local government transparency agenda is key to this so individuals and organisations can compare local authorities and highlight ones that are failing. According to the Local government transparency code 2014, all local authorities must publish their land and property assets. This is new requirement, so councils should currently be working to make this happen.

We hope we can work with organisations to deliver a national map, not just for a sake for a new map, but for all of the other projects it can help inspire or enhance.

Get in touch if you’d like to help us with this project.

Where is our public land?

Who owns our land? Public land makes 19% of it according to research
Who owns our land? Public land makes up 19% of it according to research.

Back in 2011, a demo map was released that mapped public land and property. Councils “could save billions” was the headline.

We don’t know if it would save billions, but we know this map is very important for two key reasons.

  1. Scrutiny of public land use. Can it be used in a better way?
  2. It allows us to use our community and citizen rights

But what happened to the map? Why has nothing been done since?

At Land Technologies, we’ve been on the trail of why nothing has been done and what problems are involved. There are 4 key problems:

  • Getting the data
  • Making the map
  • Keeping the map up-to-date
  • Funding the build and maintenance of the map

Getting the data

The Land Registry sit on the most of this data. Some land isn’t registered with them, but most of it is. They won’t release it because they don’t have any reason to. They make money from people looking up ownership information, so it’s not in their interest to release it all.

The other source of data is contacting all public bodies. It’s an enormous task.

Making the map

Having a list is one thing, putting a pin on a map is another. The Ordnance Survey hold intellectual property on where public land is. They won’t give that information away for free, since they are a trading fund and want to be paid to keep their business sustainable.

Keeping it up to date

So if we get the data from all public bodies, how will they keep their own data up to date? There are over 400 councils in the UK, how would you get all of them to update their information when an asset is bought or sold?


We assume that the previous map of public land must have been very costly. Important projects like this don’t get axed unless spending / resources were too high.

The way forward

What is the way forward? We’d like to make it easy for public sector organisations to upload their own information. Many are already publishing their list of assets because of the new transparency code for councils. If the Land Registry will not supply this information (we tried), then we would like to work with them to make the process of verifying contributed data easier.

An open data map would have huge impact for many organisations and individuals.


We have a question for you. If this map was launched tomorrow, how would you use it?

Join in the discussion on Twitter or post below. #ukpublicland