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Carter Jonas
2 March, 2018 - 12:31 By Will Mooney, Partner, Commercial, Carter Jonas Cambridge

Geospatial Commission – an opportunity not to be missed

Towards the end of last year, amongst some of his more headline grabbing proposals, the Chancellor recommended a Geospatial Commission to help capture, coordinate and harness the economic value of publicly owned data.

Essentially this is about Big Data informing big decisions. If we put housing or infrastructure in the wrong place, the price of fixing mistakes will be many times the original cost.

The Commission is recognition of the economic value of publicly owned information with a location tag and the importance of this intelligence as an integral element in the delivery of economic activity and growth across the UK. The Chancellor’s proposal presents an opportunity not to be missed.

Collective efforts must be made to ensure the £80 million budget that has been ring-fenced, is utilised effectively over the two-year time-frame to achieve a return on this investment. 

There are substantial challenges to overcome and five priority targets are suggested as the practical first steps on the road to unlocking a superb asset that we all own.

Target 1: Smarten our cities

Many of us are tired of streets being dug up by a gas company and then, a month later, the same spot being worked on for electricity or sewers. Creating a national register of pipes and cables has been a government target for over 15 years and yet this still hasn’t materialised. 

Instead we have a system of statutory responders who can charge for access to their records and have a long time to provide the information. As well as the day-to-day inconvenience, there is a cost barrier to what-if planning and managing obsolescence. 

The Commission’s money could be used to finish defining the data standards and developing the artificial intelligence to read the old plans.

Target 2: Integrate Ordnance Survey (OS) with Land Registry

The Government’s election manifesto promised to integrate OS, HM Land Registry and the Hydrographic Office to create a single unified view of the physical environment and who owns it. 

Unification and access to this information can’t come soon enough, especially when you realise that approximately £60m per year is spent accessing publicly owned information to support the planning process around nationally significant infrastructure projects. In the interim, it would be useful to make more information publicly available. 

Publication of the corporate and commercial land ownership is driving data accuracy improvements as the public identify mistakes that the information ‘owners’ did not.

Target 3: Improve accuracy

OS MasterMap is the authoritative source for making registered title plans and is continually being improved. Modern GPS survey equipment provides very affordable centimetre level accuracy; however, we have such a legacy of plans on an ever-changing landscape of roads and buildings that there is no guarantee of accuracy when resolving boundary disputes. 

If we look further ahead to a future that includes autonomous vehicles, the MasterMap of roads, street furniture and pedestrian crossings must be brought up to centimetre accuracy in three dimensions.

Target 4: Promote countryside stewardship

Rural businesses, particularly those that play an active role in countryside stewardship, could benefit directly from free access to mapping. These businesses often require MasterMap but find the cost prohibitive, we hope that maps of their areas of interest will be provided as part of the post-Brexit subsidy framework. 

Target 5: Trust volunteered information

There is an army of RICS regulated surveyors around the country who could substantially reduce the cost of collecting and updating information as part of their commercial programme.

Currently that fine grade data often disappears into the ether, meaning that MasterMap doesn’t benefit, and the next project will have to re-measure the same space. The x,y,z coordinates of location information are not the only factors that need to evolve. 

Our system of valuing land is changing to include values for natural and social capital. To accurately measure these values, we need a more responsive structure of recording and publishing land-use, zoning, local plan designations and the soft effects of emotional responses to our environment.

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