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Church Commissioners digitise mapping database

  • By moving to a digital geographical information system the Commissioners have saved on time, legal fees and staff costs.

    Richard Hodges, Rural Asset Manager, Church Commissioners

The Church Commissioners, who hold much of the Church of England’s investments, use Ordnance Survey geographic tools to manage their land assets and mineral rights.

The challenge

The Commissioners’ rural portfolio of 43 estates comprises some 105,000 acres of farmland.

With a value of approximately £480 million, money generated from their rural portfolio helps to support the Church of England at a national and local level, including funding a share of clergy pensions.

With circa 750,000 acres, the Commissioners’ mineral portfolio is one of the largest in the country and currently has in excess of 30 leases in place. Royalties are received for the extraction of sand and gravel, limestone, chalk, potash and brick shale. As a consequence of the Land Registration Act in 2002, manorial mineral interests had to be officially registered by October 2013 if they were to be retained, and with such a large acreage, this was a major hurdle.

The solution

Until 2002, the Commissioners’ rural assets were plotted across paper maps, which needed to be updated constantly and were becoming outdated, worn and unusable. The amount of data that could be added to paper maps was limited.

Alongside this, procedures for checking title to land to be sold were time-consuming and cumbersome,as most of the estate was unregistered and data was dispersed amongst thousands of deeds, maps and sundry other documents.

With HM Land Registry’s 2013 deadline in mind, the Commissioners’ began to explore using a universal geographic solution. In 2003, they began a six-year project digitally mapping their land assets, using a geographical information system (GIS) and Ordnance Survey’s OS MasterMap® data supplied under the Pan Government Agreement, which has now been superseded by the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA).

The PSMA, introduced in April 2011, is a licensing arrangement between the Government and Ordnance Survey, which allows all public sector organisations across England and Wales to use geographic data provided by Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency. It replaces all collective mapping agreements and has the potential to achieve major savings as a result of more accurate planning and a better use of resources. The Commissioners are included because they are a Parliamentary body.

A particular requirement of the mapping solution, necessary to comply with Land Registry’s application requirements, was the ability to submit large-scale mapping data.

Developing a bespoke solution developed by their consultant, Infoterra®, using OS MasterMap data at 1:1250 scale, they were able to plot ownership across their portfolio, including layers showing tenancy details, historic ownership, disposals, minerals reserved out of sales and deed numbers.

Valuation data can be viewed against an actual holding, ensuring there is no unvalued property.

The resultant geographic system is a cross-departmental solution, with over 80 people accessing and updating information on a daily basis. Now, off-site managing agents and legal advisors can view (but not alter) all estate data, and plans are consistent and all derived from the same database.

The benefits

  • The PSMA has saved the organisation approximately £78,000 in annual licence fees.
  • Significant financial savings on cost and time.
  • An efficient solution for multiple users, with up to 80 users accessing it.
  • More efficient asset management.
  • Registration of surface and mineral titles with Land Registry.
  • Changes to assets can be remapped quickly.

'Without the new GIS solution, incorporating data supplied free at the point of use under the PSMA, it would have been impossible to secure the Church’s inherited mineral rights within the deadline, because the quality of the old data was insufficient. Improvements have affected not just this time-sensitive project but have impacted on asset management throughout the organisation. Now, when changes are mapped, they are immediately available to all users of the system and are accessed remotely via the web solution. Ultimately, by moving to a digital geographical information system the Commissioners have saved on time, legal fees and staff costs.'

The products used

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