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Understanding the planning and housing geospatial data landscape

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Whether you are an individual searching for your new home, a developer preparing a planning application or a government official updating a local plan, planning and housing location data plays a critical role. 

High-quality geospatial data is essential to the delivery of the government’s planning and housing priorities. The Geospatial Commission initiated a Planning and Housing Landscape Review to take stock of how relevant housing data is currently being accessed and used, and whether more can be done to unlock greater insights and economic value for the UK.  

The research, carried out by SEC Newgate Research over a period of six months in 2020, included interviews with representatives of 100 organisations involved in different stages of the planning and housing journey, and a telephone survey of 126 Local Planning Authorities from across the UK.

Annabelle Sampah, our Senior Projects Manager, gives us an overview of the research.

Why is the Geospatial Commission focussed on planning and housing data?

Planning and housing is a complex space involving all levels of government, the private and third sectors, and each of us individually as tenants or homeowners. Though roles and functions may differ, we all have a need for accessible, accurate and clear data to give us the insights needed to make informed decisions. 

In 2020 we published the UK’s National Geospatial Strategy which identifies housing as a key opportunity area. We also committed to improving access to better location data from 2020. 

We have taken some immediate steps to unlock value. For example, the release of Unique Property and Street Reference Numbers under the Open Government Licence is already helping to standardise referencing and sharing address information about properties and streets across government. We also created the Bringing together housing, land and planning geospatial datasets webpage, which signposts visitors to more than 60 relevant open data sets and includes a spreadsheet listing over 300 more datasets that could be useful in planning and housing use cases.  The webpage has been a great success and has had over 4,000 unique visitors to date.

As lead for the Housing and Planning Programme in the Geospatial Commission, I believe the opportunities are endless. However, early on in our investigations, we realised that it was quite difficult to get a good baseline view of what was happening across the sector and where further action could be taken to add value.  This led to the Planning and Housing Landscape Review being commissioned.  

What does the review tell us about the planning and housing landscape?

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The Planning and Housing landscape review’s aim is to provide an understanding of what and how geospatial data is being used and managed in support of planning and housing.  The review identifies where the challenges and opportunities are for better leveraging geospatial data and also outlines what current and forthcoming geospatial initiatives participants of the review were aware of.

Interview findings demonstrated how critically important geospatial data is to those operating within the planning and housing sector. A number of common challenges were also identified. 

Across the sector, there are challenges relating to the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability of the data.   The review highlights some specific challenges relating to the standardisation of the geospatial information that is collected and the format in which this geospatial data is then stored and shared are evidenced throughout the review. These data standards challenges are faced across all sectors (government, private and third sector) in the planning and housing journey.

The report also highlights the challenges associated with upskilling, recruiting and retaining staff with the necessary Geographic Information Systems (GIS) experience and, the programming and data science skills, especially among local authorities.  Whilst it is acknowledged that these challenges vary across sectors due to different organisations' size, budget and the significance of geospatial data to the organisational objectives, the lack of geospatial skills and resources has a significant impact on the quality and accessibility of planning and housing data. 

What should the planning and housing sector consider in order to unlock the value of geospatial data?

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Overcoming the data issues evidenced in the report will require action by a wide range of organisations. No one organisation will solve these challenges by working alone. However, by setting out the current landscape, we are now better able to identify key opportunity areas, and how we can collaborate across government and sectors to address them. 

We hope that the organisations reading this report will seek to take action now by incorporating geospatial opportunities into their digital delivery strategies, including activities that can be used to demonstrate its high value to decision-makers and ways staff could be upskilled to make better use of it. These plans could include concrete actions to improve the quality and accessibility of existing data, while also looking outward at how the organisation could make use of datasets held and maintained by others. They could also be used to set out how existing staff will be upskilled and include recruitment strategies to ensure job seekers are aware of the exciting opportunities available.  

The findings of the review can also serve as a good evidence base for the sector to champion and deliver data improvements and positively influence change.

What will the Commission do with these findings? 

In the coming financial year, the Geospatial Commission will be working with colleagues in MHCLG, Homes England, HMLR and across the housing and planning sector to consider how we take these and other findings forward.

Improving data findability and accessibility is a complex issue to address as it crosses many sectors.  Therefore, building on the work to draw together key datasets on GOV.UK, the Geospatial Commission will be working across the sector to find ways to tackle these specific challenges.  

The Geospatial Commission will also be looking at the ways in which we can help ensure the data is more interoperable to support the sector. As a starting point, we want to support the greater use of UPRNs and USRNs. We will also look for ways to promote data standards across the sector. 

The review’s detailed insights into geospatial skills and capability challenges faced by Local Authorities and the wider sector will also help inform the Geospatial Commission’s Skills Programme.  Enhancing capabilities and skills to support the use of geospatial data is one of our core missions, as set out in the Strategy.  In the coming financial year, we will be looking at ways to promote geospatial skills and careers through our work and the work carried out by others.   

The Geospatial Commission will set out our plans in each of these areas in more detail in its annual plan, which will be published later this year.

Read the full Planning and Housing Landscape Review 

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