Land change – who’s monitoring it and why is it important?

By Katerina Harrington, Relationship Manager, OSGB

With an increased focus on house building across the country, how can we monitor the changes to the landscape of Great Britain? Government has pledged to enable the building of 300,000 new homes a year, to counteract the short fall of homes in this country. But they’ve also promised to protect the greenbelt and build more homes on brownfield land. How can we ensure our green spaces are being protected? Do we know how many homes are built on brownfield land vs greenspace or on the green belt? How can we monitor land change?

Land classification from Ordnance Survey (OS) data provides a way of monitoring the changes to the natural and built environment. Information about land cover and land use is a key part of the planning process. It’s used as a benchmark of current investments and can reveal patterns to inform regional planning. Planners may use land change patterns as part of an environmental conservation or sustainability project, or to predicted future housing requirements.

In fact, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) use OS land change information. It aids the analysis and monitoring of change in the number of homes built on the green belt, flood risk areas and previously developed land (brownfield).

We log Britain’s landscape into one of 29 categories in our geospatial database. By taking a snapshot from 2015 and a snapshot from 2016,  we can compare the changes. Our Land Use Change Statistics (LUCS) are produced in this way.

There is a lot more that can be done with our land classification data, for example changes to and from forestry areas can be monitored. This could help to detect illegal tree felling and identify where new forests are being grown.

What else can be achieved by looking at the land change?

Could it be important to identify increases or decreases to transportation facilities across the country?

Or changes to retail areas, where they may be changing to other categories such as homes. Only recently it was reported that more and more commercial buildings are being converted into residential flats and the effect this has on local areas.

Is it important to know if our farmland is on the decrease or even increase?

OS data plays a vital part in helping government to answer many questions about the changes to land in Great Britain. These answers help the government to evaluate existing policies and plan for the future. 

If you want more information about how OS data has created Land Use Change Statistics go to the MHCLG website. The full LUCS report can be found here. See how local authorities are finding new sites with OS data.


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10 Responses

  1. Geoff Smith

    Very interesting! Is this land use data available in any of your products? (had a quick google and I can’t see anything obvious…)

  2. I manage the GIS projects for the National Forest Inventory and I am very interested in land change data especially in relation to change in forest area, so would be useful to know if this spatial data is available as a product or who I could contact for more information.

  3. John Rahilly


    I have been investigating how to track land use change for my PhD [primarily using OS Mastermap Topography Layer, supplemented with Address Base Premium], but have had trouble differentiating between brownfield and greenfield. It would be very helpful to get some advice in regards to how you did so. It would be very helpful to understand how the 29 categories were formed….

    1. Hi John

      I’ve just checked with our product team and they’ve confirmed that we don’t capture brownfield or greenfield sites as an attribute in our data.

      The greenspace product was likely used to derive greenfield information, using attributes like residential and business amenity, which is usually green land which has no specific function and as a consequence often gets built upon.

      The information can be found https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/help-and-support/products/os-open-greenspace.html

      1. John Rahilly

        Thanks Gemma.

        I had a follow up question in regards to MasterMap data more generally.
        In the process of my research I identified polygons that were classified with the ‘natural’ make in 2007, but were seen to be building sites/previously developed land in satellite imagery from 2006. Do you know if this is just part of the data or is it an error?


        1. Jocelyn

          John, thanks for your question and apologies for the delayed response our system had a slight issue. Our team think they have the answer, but can you just confirm which grid reference you are referring to please? Many thanks, Jocelyn

          1. John Rahilly

            No need to apologise.

            It was in square TQ38 – Tower Hamlets. The TOID of the polygon in 2007 was 1000001800487907.

            Let me know if that’s enough…..


          2. Jocelyn

            John, this was passed on to the relevant team and they have advised me they would need the six figure grid reference and a bit more information on where to look. Due to the nature of this query and that there will likely be more back and forth, please can you email us your response to customerservices@os.uk? Many thanks, Jocelyn

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