Memorandum by Ordnance Survey (PGP 56)
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
Ordnance Survey is the national mapping agency
of Great Britain and a Government Department. It carries out the
official, definitive, survey and mapping of the country and is
a world leader in digital geographical information. The Director
General is the official adviser to government on geographical
information. Ordnance Survey became an Executive Agency in 1990
and a Trading Fund on 1 April 1999.
We aim to satisfy the need for accurate, readily-available,
mapping and geospatial information for the whole of Great Britain
in the most effective and efficient way.
More information about our work is available
on our web site at www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk.
Ordnance Survey has been in the forefront of
recent efforts to modernise government, and we are naturally supportive
of moves to improve the inclusiveness and effectiveness of planning.
The Green paper proposes a number of positive changes but it is
not clear that, in aggregate, they will amount to the fundamental
change that is sought. We believe the opportunity exists to go
further than the Green Paper envisages in transforming planning
to meet the needs of citizens. Our observations centre on the
respective roles of electronic government and geographical information
in planning. We also comment on the contribution of the National
Land Use Database to the urban renaissance.
The Green Paper states (at 5.12) that ".
. . electronic technology has a huge potential to make the planning
system more transparent and accessible, more responsive and more
efficient", yet devotes just three paragraphs to the subject.
These focus on the role that the Planning Portal will play in
making planning applications and appeals available on-line. Nothing
is said about the potential contribution of e-communications to
increasing community participation in the development of higher-level
In our view the Green Paper underplays the contribution
that the Planning Portal and other e-initiatives can make to transforming
planning processes. To the extent that the role of the internet
is acknowledged it is in terms of automating existing processes
rather than fundamentally rethinking them.
It may be that the authors of the Green Paper
were deterred from a more positive approach to e-business by the
diversity among local planning authorities in terms of their preparedness
for electronic communication. While this does indeed limit the
extent of change that can be introduced simultaneously across
the country, it should not be a reason for holding back positive
developments that can be achieved incrementally. For as long as
planning remains in the hands of local planning authorities, variations
in the speed of adoption of new technology are to be expected
and should be accommodated wherever possible. Meanwhile web technology
provides the means by which software tools can be made available
to all, to be taken up when users are ready.
Though neither planning authorities nor citizens
are uniformly ready, and access to the internet is far from universal,
now is surely the time to grasp the nettle and plan for an e-planning
It goes without saying that planning is a geographically-based
activity, so its effectiveness naturally depends upon the ready
availability of high-quality geographical information. Great Britain
is fortunate in having up-to-date and accurate large scale mapping
for the whole country and, in Ordnance Survey, an organisation
able to adapt to the demands of new technology.
Visualisation plays a major part in planning
decisions, both at the broad planning and development control
levels. Maps have always been at the heart of local plans and
county structure plans, but the ability to display geographical
information on the world-wide web could transform local community
involvement in the process by allowing groups and individuals
easy access to plans as they develop, together with a host of
relevant background and statistical information in a form that
is easy to digest. At the level of individual development proposals,
geographical information provides the means not only to identify
locations (as now) but also to assess both visual and environmental
Consistent technical standards are fundamental
to the successful use of geographical information, in planning
as elsewhere. OS MasterMap, Ordnance Survey's new large-scale
database, provides just such a standard. It offers the ability
to link together information about real objects such as buildings,
building plots, fields and the like, from multiple sources, via
unique TOgraphical IDentifiers or TOIDS. This will facilitate
the combining of information from different systems owned by different
stakeholders, thus helping to make the planning system more open
Ordnance Survey has a particular interest in
the use of digital geographical information in planning, because
it will facilitate the collection of "pre-build" data
for inclusion in OS MasterMap as a distinct data layer. We know
that pre-build information is useful to a wide range of users
and we aim to provide more in the future.
A new pan-government agreement, that will make
Ordnance Survey data available right across central government,
is nearing the signing stage. By improving accessibility and controlling
costs, it has the potential to bring together the functions of
government in the service of the citizen as never before.
An excellent example of the use of geographical
information as an aid to planning is the creation of the National
Land Use Database (NLUD). Established under the direction of John
Prescott as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport
and the Regions, NLUD has built a database of previously developed
land that is now a national resource for the identification of
brownfield sites. This has been achieved through partnership among
DTLR, English Partnerships, IDeA and Ordnance Survey and serves
as an example of what can be achieved by co-operation and data
sharing among agencies.
Government Policy Adviser