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When the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) published ‘The Planning for the Future’ White Paper in August 2020, it was clear planning reform would be a key priority for the public sector in coming years.

Whether it involves turning Local Plans from heavy 250-page documents into online visualisations suitable for both professionals and communities, providing richer levels of data that meet standards at the planning application stage, or being able to make accurate analysis on the best locations for future housing sites, there is plenty of work to do.

So how can geospatial data support these ambitions?

Location data is already helping the planning process and has played a hand in supporting automated planning tools, easy to understand visual maps and making better decisions on future housing stock.

The story so far

For many years now OS data has supported projects across the public sector that focused on improving housing and planning issues.

In Devon, Teignbridge District Council used OS MasterMap to help automate its Local Land Charge search process by introducing easy-to-use GIS tools. The change from relying on libraries of old paper maps to digital technology reduced the time it took to complete this process from 10 days to four days. It has saved the district council £60,000 a year.

In Somerset, OS location data was used by North Somerset Council in an online mapping tool that reduced invalid planning applications. Applicants were able to easily visualise data to check if flood zones, listed buildings, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Tree Preservation Orders or other factors would invalidate their planning applications before submitting them. The fall in invalid planning applications mirrored a drop in pressure for council resources, with a 94% reduction in costs associated with answering customer phone calls.

In Nottinghamshire, OS MasterMap data was used by Broxtowe Borough Council to build itself a more accurate picture of sites with potential to be redeveloped for housing. By using GIS and OS datasets, the council overlaid its comprehensive database of Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (including planning applications, developer submissions and public canvassing) onto OS MasterMap Topography Layer. This was published online so the public can quickly and easily view, filter or interrogate the information, and has saved the planning team six months of officer time.

OS data also provides a way of monitoring changes to the natural and built environment. MCHLG uses land change information to monitor the number of homes built on the green belt, flood risk areas and brownfield land. This data provides a detailed snapshot about the evolving landscape in Britain, and helps the public sector recognise where land with high development potential is lying unused or wasted.

OS Data Hub – the next step

OS is keen that location data continues to play a critical role in tackling planning reforms.

Under the terms of the Geospatial Commission’s Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA), public sector developers and the private sector now have greater access and easier usability to OS’s premium geospatial data than ever before via the OS Data Hub.

From January 11 a new suite of APIs will be available for the public sector to access and use for free to support their many projects.

These APIs will simplify and make it far easier to extract premium OS data for whichever project you are working on that would benefit from it.

OS Product Manager Charley Glynn said: “We have made a range of new APIs available to help the public sector that would be particularly useful for housing and planning.

“For example, if you are involved in planning locations for new housing estates, then OS Maps API is probably the best one for you as it provides detailed, contextual basemaps.

“Other useful APIs include the OS Places API for detailed address data, OS Linked Identifiers which can be used to join datasets to our accurate location data via unique identifiers such as the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN).

“And our OS Features API contains OS MasterMap Topography Layer data which gives vital information on building footprints and height attributes.

“Whatever product it is that you think would benefit from incorporating premium data, we’d love it for you to get in touch to see how we can help.”

To find out more what OS APIs can do for you, visit the OS Data Hub.