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5 Open Datasets for a Better Built Environment


We usually leave town planning and new developments to the professionals and have little say in our future homes and work environments. But if citizens were given new digital tools to understand neighbourhood planning and actively contribute, what would happen?

Here's our top 5 list of open datasets that could enable a new wave of digital tools to shape the future spaces where we live, work and spend our leisure time.

  1. Land ownership boundaries
  2. Public land
  3. Price paid information for land
  4. Nationwide development land
  5. Nationwide planning applications

1. Land ownership boundaries

Knowing who owns individual pieces of land is not enough, we need to be able to see land ownership boundaries on a map to be able to understand our neighbourhood.

What could you do with this data?

  • Estate agents could make detailed property maps to persuade buyers
  • Make neighbourhood planning maps
  • Make maps of public land, greenbelt land, brownfield land on a local level
  • Allow communities to share information about land around them
  • Allow citizens to talk about land

In the age of the Internet, we can easily crowdsource a lot of information. Land ownership boundaries is one thing we simply cannot crowdsource since nobody can see ownership boundaries in the real world. This is why this dataset is top of our list.

How do we make this happen?

The Land Registry have already released this data, but it cannot be used publicly online due to restrictions by Ordnance Survey. A free website cannot afford to pay royalty fees to a mapping provider. Making this data open would require a policy change at Ordnance Survey, which is obviously intimidating to a company that generates around £150 million in revenues.

We need people to work with Ordnance Survey to allow use of this data so new digital tools can be made to benefit society. We’re working with many people to make this happen. Get in touch if you can help.

2. Public land

Public land is that which is owned by public bodies such as councils, central government, the Highways Agency or the NHS. Anyone has the right to contest this land if you believe it's being used ineffectively. It could lead to land being sold that would benefit society, such as plots for self-build homes, allotments or community energy.

Alongside this, communities have the right to transfer public land to their organisation at a discount over commercial companies.

If people are to make use of their rights, they need to know where public land is. That might sound obvious, but currently there is no way to easily find this information.

What could you do with this data?

  • Use your Right to Contest
  • Use your Community Rights

How do we make this happen?

The Land Registry hold information relating to all land that is registered by public bodies. Currently it is too expensive to get this information from an FOI request. The transparency team in the Cabinet Office could find funding to open this data under a liberal open data license.

Another, more complicated approach, would be to get many organisations working together to fund the release of this data.

3. Price paid information for land

Many websites have made use of the Land Registry's data that shows how much was paid for a home. It's incredibly valuable since people can use it to price homes more accurately. We set-up a campaign about this a while ago.

What could you do with this data?

  • Value land much more accurately
  • Find anomalies in price sold data to bring any potential miss-selling/corruption to light

How do we make this happen?

The Land Registry need to make this a priority and publish the data. They have already done it for residential homes, so we hope it is just a matter of time before it's done for land. We'd like to hear from the Land Registry that they will commit to doing this.

4. Nationwide development land

What land is available for development? Every council makes a local development plan. Part of the work in coming up with a plan is identifying important development sites. Every council publishes a list of "site allocations". These are the top priority sites for the council and are usually larger pieces of land. But what about smaller pieces of land that could be used by smaller homebuilders? There is no open information for these potential sites!

In London, the London First Housing Task Force recently suggested that a 21st century “Domesday Book” of public land is needed. This needs to happen at a national level. It's important this happens in an open way to speed up development and to make land opportunities fair to everyone.

What could you do with this data?

  • Use it when making a neighbourhood plan
  • Developers can use it to identify suitable sites - small scale as well as large
  • Local councils could highlight problem sites that need to be developed
  • Communities could use it to discuss (and potentially suggest) uses of land
  • Short term land uses could be realised

How do we make this happen?

The Greater London Authority needs to publish their private land for housing database to the public (or at least an extract of it). Councils outside of London should publish a full list of their development sites in a standard open format.

5. Nationwide Planning Applications

The planning application is the essential paperwork for reviewing and approving plans before permission is granted. Most councils have a way to search through their planning application database on their website, with accompanying maps. This is a good start, but for us to have better tools we need to work together to come up with an open data standard. Planning applications are not just internal documents for councils, they are often viewed by local residents that are impacted by the plans. We need standardised open data to make it feasible for individuals or companies to build new tools that will work for all councils.

What could you do with this data?

  • Build a tool to allow reviewing of major planning applications by local people
  • Use "big data" to analyse planning applications to see how we can improve the process
  • Make standard planning tools that could benefit many councils and companies

How do we make this happen?

We need to establish a space online for councils to work together to generate open data from their planning systems. Some councils, such as Nottingham have led the way by having open data on their website. We need those forward thinking councils to work together to establish a common format all councils can use. Many councils use the same planning system, so it makes sense for them to work together to make the changes in the most cost effective way.

Do you know of a good space where councils can collaborate on this issue? Perhaps you could make this happen. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss this more with us.

What would be in your top 5 open datasets for the built environment? Please comment below. We'd like to hear your thoughts.

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