Sneak preview into a new land-based open data tool…

We’ve all had the experience of walking past a derelict building and thinking:

“What a shame – surely there must be a better use for that?!“. 

This morning EP hosted a workshop with our friends at Shared Assets, who are building an online tool called Land Explorer. It aims to (oddly enough!) help the public explore the land around them, through combining multiple data sources to create an interactive map showing how land is used, the physical and social features present, and which policies affect the land. As well as this, there is potential for features to include flood risk and even property history and ownership.

Around the table sat planners with experience in both private and public sectors; GIS, insurance and marketing professionals; community group representatives and advisers; and a few interested students! The lively discussions brought forth new ideas about how this tool could best serve the greatest range of people – particularly those who would otherwise struggle to access this data.

So… why would this be useful? 

Well, for a whole host of reasons – but here are a few:

  • Communities, charities and CICs involved with Asset Transfers or who are looking for land or a building for their activities
  • For small business owners who may need to make a decision about the best area to base their business
  • Being able to better assess risks for insurance purposes
  • Understanding the possible implications of policies on providing housing , for example through empty homes projects
  • Being able to discover the history of an area – for research or for fun!
  • As a tool for academic and policy researchers in geography, environment, architecture, planning, landscape architecture, archaeology…

Here’s an example:

A small charity provide a dual solution to homelessness and unemployment. They have grown significantly over the past few years and have seen brilliant outcomes from their work, with the vast majority of their service users now re-housed, holding down jobs, and rebuilding their lives and community. There is clearly demand for their projects – and whilst funding has increased with this success, the reality is that funding in the charity sector is always tight and decisions about the best use between staff, resources, investment and other areas. Staff and volunteers do not have the expertise or resources to ‘demystify’ the planning system, nor to untangle the complicated web of steps involved in identifying empty properties’ owners and coming to a renovation and lease agreement.

However, in this scenario, the Land Explorer app give them an initial grasp on many of these issues, simply by looking around an interactive map. Whilst they may still require assistance in the process, the land explorer app would give them a head start with discovering which projects may be feasible and therefore worth pursuing. There may even, in time, be information about funding that could be available for those projects.

With the current housing crisis, lack of affordable housing, and the thousands of people without permanent accommodation in the UK, this user-friendly tool could become a catalyst for  engagement across many sectors of society. 

Watch this space..!