Getting the open data you need for good Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood plans are a crucial part of the UK’s planning infrastructure, allowing people to have a serious say in the development of their own area. People in Bramcote decided to take advantage of this – the move to do a neighbourhood plan was driven by a desire to preserve the green belt in the area.

They decided to work on Bramcote ward – a political ward – for simplicity’s sake.

Judith’s first step in building the maps and plans needed for the plan was working out what’s there already. She sought open data that showed what existed within the ward, from walks to infrastructure to the areas of green belt. Local wildlife sites were easily defined – the shapes were downloaded from data.gov.uk, but some local sites weren’t there. They were found at Nottingham Insight mapping, but it wasn’t downloadable. A printout isn’t super-useful for GIS work – and the data wasn’t released for anything but personal use. And the data owners wouldn’t allow permission.

Greenbelt boundaries have been published, so they could see how they’ve been changed. But consultation on planning shapefiles weren’t available for use.

Why the copyright restrictions on public data?

Where did the constraints come from? Possibly a local supplier added copyright out of information extracted from Ordnance Survey. But the OSNI does enforce copyright data on anything that uses its data. There’s the option to buy the data of course, but that’s expensive.

In the end, self-generating maps is one solution. The other is that you can go and talk programmatically to the services underlying the OS data. Of course, just because the data is available that way, doesn’t mean its necessarily open data.

It’s the copy & paste paradox. Just because you can copy it doesn’t mean you can paste it.

The general conclusion was that the restrictions were almost certainly more cultural than anything else. But how do you deal with that? Campaigning – people need to be aware that these things should be available. And many times, realising the data isn’t anywhere near central to the officer’s job or priorities.

Solving the problem in a neighbourly way

How about co-operation with other neighbourhoods creating their plans? That brings a weight of political pressure to bear. Another way to exert pressure is to put a request in, mentioning that you’ll use a Freedom of Information request to get it instead. That tends to shake it loose.

Useful tip: there’s an active QGIS user group who are working in neighbourhood planning. That’s useful network of expertise and experience.

Turning the question on its head: are they releasing their neighbourhood plan polygons? The local planning officer would probably leap at that, and you’re setting things up for an exchange.

Open Street Map? It was tried, but there were problems registering it.
OS the GridInQuest software could be useful for dealing with that.

Session Notes

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