1. Know your assets – and share that knowledge
Incomplete information obscures opportunities. If cities or potential partners are not aware of opportunities, then they cannot be taken. Having a deep knowledge of the assets in an area, and sharing that knowledge, can also help to reduce the costs and the time for planners and developers. For local authorities working with their peers in combined authorities or other regional arrangements, this knowledge must underpin any Spatial Economic Plan or spatial framework.
‘Know your assets’ was one of the key recommendations from our earlier report on public assets.4 Central government’s condition that local authorities add their assets to the Electronic Property Information Mapping Service (e-PIMS) in order to participate in the One Public Estate program demonstrates the importance that central government puts on places knowing their assets and sharing that knowledge to get the most out of them.
Many authorities, either separately or through participation in the One Public Estate programme are already aware of their public asset base or getting to grips with it. But e-PIMS does not include private land owners, some government departments’ holdings and is still incomplete in some local authorities.
All local authorities should be helped by a proposed Digital National Asset Register. It will include e-PIMS, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and other data, using GIS mapping to increase the utility and accessibility of it. Even with the inclusion of the Land Registry there will still be gaps. 16 per cent of the land in the UK has no evidence of ownership as it has not been bought or sold since the 19th century.5
While we concentrate on physical assets, within the wider vision for the economic development of a city, how these assets are used to enhance or encourage broader and more intangible assets such as universities, culture and firms, has to be considered.
Case study 1: Mapping Greater Manchester’s public assets and data to improve planning
In 2013, Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership recognised that there was a lack of comparable, city region-wide data on infrastructure, which could hinder the speed and quality of decisions made by planners and the applications of developers.
Funded by £330,000 from the Cabinet Office Release of Data Fund, Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership commissioned New Economy to create a single map to allow planners and developers across the 10 local authorities to easily see Greater Manchester’s infrastructure and housing information. Salford City Council was appointed to build the map and two part-time staff from the council worked on the project while New Economy provided two full-time-equivalent staff to develop the map.
The first map was completed in five months and included public and private sector data. It has now been expanded with more datasets on heritage, flooding, property prices and river quality and is now looking to expand to include other socioeconomic indicators to support public services.
MappingGM offers users polygon rather than point data. This gives them an idea of the size and shape of an asset, allowing them to more quickly and clearly see the potential and limitations of a site, and whether utilities, flood risk or other factors important to developers and planners need to be considered.
It is estimated that every time MappingGM is used, it saves planners the one to three hours it takes to digitise sites as the private sector can add their own plots directly onto the map.
Outcomes: Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
MappingGM has been used to help the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) consultation and call for sites from the private sector. The GMSF aims to set out where the housing and commercial land that Greater Manchester will need over the next 20 years will be found. This:
- Gives a clearer picture of assets at the level of the functional economy, across arbitrary administrative borders.
- Offers greater knowledge and number of opportunity areas in what will likely be a contentious process.
- Allows the private sector to align plans and projects to Greater Manchester’s economic development ambitions over the next 20 years and make strategic, rather than case-by-case decisions.
- Helps with the development of the Greater Manchester Plan which is non-statutory and requires agreement from all members of the combined authority and the mayor.
- Has increased public engagement in the consultation.
Other cities are looking into producing such a tool to map their assets and infrastructure to get a clearer picture of the opportunities that these provide and for users to engage with.