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What is the Geospatial Commission? What does it have to do with housing and land use?

Land use housing

The Geospatial Commission, previously overseen by Sir Gavin Williamson before his resignation, has announced a series of new projects that will improve decision-making in relation to land use change.

As part of the National Land Data Programme, an analysis will be made on key land use pressures, such as energy, housing and decarbonisation.

The programme, which was announced last year, has instructed the Geospatial Commission to conduct regional pilots and workshops to bring key stakeholders together across local government, national government, academia and industry.

Housing or infrastructure?

The UK, and England in particular is one of the densest populated places on earth. While Housing developers want and need land for properties, transport and rail companies want/need land to improve and develop their services.

Besides housing and transport, land is key for energy, food production, flood protection and decarbonisation. There is no longer enough land across the country to accommodate all of these industries so prioritisation must take place.

Many believe that the priority of land use should be to aid environmental advancements. The Climate Change Committee have estimated that 9% of agricultural land in the United Kingdom will need to be made available to reduce emissions and sequester carbon by 2035. While 9% may not seem a lot, it’s equivalent to the total size of Wales.

The government have announced that a Land Use Framework for England will be published in 2023. This gives them very little time to plan how land use can help the United Kingdom meet net zero and biodiversity targets while also growing the economy through housing and transport installations.

Multifunctional Land Use

The ideal way to tackle land use issues is to make as much land as possible multifunctional. This means enabling areas of land to help with decarbonisation in a way that doesn’t prevent house development.

The Geospatial Commission are hopeful that new forms of data and advancements in spatial data science will help in this regard. Through these mediums, satellite observations can be combined with remote sensing technology and data around current land use to identify areas of land that do have the capacity to serve multiple purposes.

Through the regional pilots we mentioned earlier, the National Land Data Programme will utilise this data to develop a blueprint to support decision-making when it comes to land use.

Communication is key

A series of Land Use Dialogues are set to take place at a national level that will bring together key decision-makers with model practitioners from government, academia and industry to discuss core policy challenges. This will be done via several different roundtables and workshops.

These gatherings will look at how industry leaders and government decision-makers can better use spatial data and modelling tools to make more informed decisions about pressing land use challenges.

The first roundtable was held on the 1st of November 2022 with members of the roundtable meeting to discuss the UK’s long-term energy security. We can expect further roundtable discussions to occur in the coming months on topics that include housing, infrastructure and the environment.

Communication is also taking place at a regional level. The Geospatial Commission are working with regional partners to help them better understand spatial data and how to use it to inform better land use strategy.

In Devon and Cambridgeshire, the Commission are working alongside the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the British Geological Survey to help design and develop and local land use framework. This framework, alongside a spatial modelling decision support tool that is in development, will help local stakeholders when it comes to deciding what to do with certain areas of land.

Whereas in Northern Ireland, the Commission are working with Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland to help improve their understanding of existing land use. The best way to improve future decisions is to understand how/why existing decisions were made and how/why these decisions weren’t necessarily right.

Final thought

Twelve years into this Government, with time and land running out, why has a land use strategy been so slow in coming?

The main reason that land-use is the crossroads where every hard questions of UK politics meets. Housing, environmentalism, development. These rails are absolutely electrified and have ended the careers of politicians time and again.

It may prove that the wisest decision the Government makes on land use is naming this body the boring sounding “Geospatial Commission”.

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