Create a national Local Plans Proposals Map

Local plans have a considerable impact on residents and businesses alike, and a key component of the Local Plan is the Proposals Maps.   This allows indviduals to see what Local Plan designations apply to their property.    Mapping is often a key component in understand what is often a very wordy document!  

Yet how a Local Authority publishes it's Proposals Map is not consistant.   Some do wonderful webmaps, others just provide a PDF. 

Local Authorities have cited 'derived data' and OS licencing concerns when asked whether they could share the GIS files of their Local Plans.

I am proposing that either Local Authorities are requried to share their GIS files of the Local Plans with any who asks for it, or better yet that they contribute to a national web map so that we can have a wider view of local plan policies across boundaries.

I would also propose that this idea is combined with the other ideas for a national planning application map.   There doesn't need to be a central database for it either, it just requires all Local Authorities to produce news feeds in a common standard and format (GeoRSS for example) that web developers can hook into.

This would increase transparency within the planning system, enable local authorities to see and coordinate the spatial elements of their Local Plans.   It would also allow for better monitoring of the planning system and perhaps inspire new inovative ways of using the current data.   This would fit in with the current governments idea's of Big Society and Localism allowing anyone to quickly and easily see Local Plan polcies witha geographic element as well as planning applications.

Submitter name: 
Elliot Hartley


Have they got the skills?

Local authorities vary greatly in size and probably in skills in this field.  Some may be lucky enough to have an evangelist who was ahead of the game; others may just about have the skills to do what they currently do (unless they have dispensed with them).  I suspect that some of the barriers that you quote are actually hiding resource and skills issues.

Reminds me a bit of my old field, statistics.  One day, gets announced, and the next day people are almost saying "why haven't you done it yet?"  The number of people with the necessary skills was very small.  And just suppose we had trained everyone who needed that skills a year earlier; people would have been jumping up and down about waste of taxpayers' money on unnecessary training!  Don't get me wrong; I'm avery much in favour of the open data initiatives, but there is a cost attached.

As an aside, doesn't Localism imply that local authorities (or their electorates) should make their own decisions on what they publish and how they do it?

So ... it sounds good but some investment in skills has to be found first.

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Thanks for the input!  Interesting you bring up Localism! I think the skills are in-house within all local authorities but if the funding isn't there then just releasing the raw data could allow some of the public who are more community minded (I know there's a problem there) could do something with it.  Hence this site!  

For instance anyone has access to the Local Proposals map but the publication format (PDF, webmap etc) of it varies between Local Authority.   What I'm arguing for really is the release of information I'm already entitled to by law, but in GIS formats.  I'm not necessarily arguing for Local Authorities to convert it all into a standard format say MapInfo or ArcGIS (Shapefiles for example).   I know there are a lot more issues here mainly regarding data ownership and who has reponsibility of ownership and updating.

There is perhaps is another factor, management need to be pursuaded that this is not only a very useful thing to do but one that could save their planning technicians fielding phone calls.   I'm fairly sure that a lot of calls could be easily answered by the public themselves if the data was available online.

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Ah yes, localism.  Politicans

Ah yes, localism.  Politicans in central government are all in favour of giving authorities freedom to do what they want, as long as it coincides with what the politicans want!  While this is particularly acute at the moment, I think it has been there under all hues of government.  Anyay, mustn't get too political.

My experience was that there was considerably more GIS knowledge in local than in central government (and certainly a lot more than I had).  If all authorities have it, then great, though there is bound to be some variation.  The skills are pretty marketable so there must be a danger of the skills walking out of the door...

I was unclear as to who would produce the national map you were proposing.  Would it be "open data" developers, i e at no cost to government.

My personal experience has been that I have easily been able to find what I need through text-based search interfaces.  No doubt there is some GIS underneath that, not directly visbile to me.  However I do wonder whether they types of queries that most members of the public have actually require additional GIS or a map-based interface at all.  Would the likely customer base be businesses rather than the public?

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The likely 'customer' base

Thanks for continuing the discussion!  Apologies for mention of 'localism' but sometimes policy makers need a reason to fit proposals into current government thinking.... :)

In regards to who would develop it, there are I guess two feasible options. The first is to have someone like the planning portal try again at hosting everyone's local plans, but this time ensure that the authorities all take part (either by legilslative means or amend the planning act or produce a circular/guidance) or better yet through them some money/incentive if they do it.

The second would be to require local authorities to either make available either the GIS files themselves in any known professional format or provide a Web Mapping Service.   This would then require enterprising inividuals to do something intertesting with it!

Obviously the cheapest option is to just provide the public with the relevant polygons via a GIS file format and let someone make a service out of it.  

In relation to your last points I understand many people can use text based searches but it really depends on what type of information you are after.   Mapping is a very visual medium and whilst it does require some skill in how to read mapping, it does better illustrate certain types of information (like local plans).  

Many householders can indeed just use their address and postcode to find out information about what planning constraints apply to their property (yes it still would use GIS) but outside of urban areas in particular, for example the countryside, this is problematic.   Farmers as an example have interests that aren't necessailry neatly identified by a specific address.   The problem of identifying particular planning constraints can be more interesting when you live on or near a Local Authority boundary as well.   

Whilst I come at this from a business perspective mainly, I do feel that a central place to see Planning proposal maps would be very useful.    Combine that with data already available on planning department performance (already available via DCLG) and weekly decision/application lists (available by LA's but not in a common format) the wealth of information that could be monitored and analysed across the country would be very useful to many industries and groups.   On a micro scale allowing members of the public to just be able to see easily what planning policies are around their property via a map is important.

Thanks again.

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Has anyone got this info - data?

I've worked extensively with google earth KML data.

message me at:

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Carl,  Thanks for your reply.

<p>That's really the point of my post here, there is no national GIS database of local plan maps, every authority has their own 'silo' of data and rarely share this.   It's not a matter of skills as every LA has to have some kind of IT/GIS person who would know how to save out their local plans to a GIS format.   

I've done a blog post here about it for those who are interested entitiled "The Awful mess of Local Plan Maps Online" 

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The problems are usually financial or political

Over the last 10 years local authorities have built on a structure of a designated specialists or "principal contacts" at each authority, and we all help each other out even having our own networks and forums. We are generally the tecchiest in the maps and GIS.

I would say we definately do have the skills, as we have proven with the gazetteer project, now Geoplace. However the fact that we are willing doesnt easily counteract years of red tape and silo thinking. The easiest way to do this is to change planning law, and then we will happily follow. I would suggest we use wms/wfs, which is far better than georss for this sort of thing.

If it isnt law, then the software we use wont allow us to export like this for free, and we cant afford to change or buy the new extensions. I am not just talking a few pounds, when the gazetteer was introduced, some suppliers quoted 5 and even 6 figure sums just to export a simple csv file with certain address fields being specified. When we had to link to multiple systems, this got so out of hand it was untrue.

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Maybe a law isn't required...


Thanks for your comments, they're much apprciated!  

I agree that the skills are there and there is a certain amount of 'silo thinking' involved here.  A change of planning law isn't necessarily required though.   Look what happened when some money was waved at planning departments to improve their service and provided proper information online (I'm thinking the Pendleton Points criteria).   That's why Planning departments have link from the frontpages of Local Authority websites.

All the planning systems I have seen have allowed for some kind of reporting system, for supplying statistics to central government or producing weekly lists.  Even the release of these in an appropriate format should be relatively easy to do. I seem to remember one system used Crystal reports and anyone could create a new report (with export to rtf/pdf etc) however no one in the planning department was given training to use it or was even aware of it!   If the Local Authority's IT supplier for the planning database can't offer this perhaps they should purchase something else in future?

I think probably a coordination of planning departments and the relevant IT/GIS department is required?  

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