Gatecrashing the Gateway

Mandy Rudd, GiGL Director

Publicly available planning figures show 17,000 planning applications were assessed in London between January and March last year (2011). In the same period, GiGL delivered just 144 data searches. While not all applications have a potential impact on London’s biodiversity and open spaces, this gap in numbers is very worrying and means less than 1% of planning applications in London are being informed by the GiGL partnership’s data.

Our concern has been two-fold. Firstly that planning applications are not being properly informed, and secondly, that potential partners and customers are by-passing GiGL and using the limited information we make available via the National Biodiversity Network’s Gateway tool.

The NBN’s Gateway tool displays collated data from the local record centre network, national schemes and societies. It is invaluable for genuine researchers who can make free use of its data and functionality. It is not, however, a free alternative to engaging with local records centres for potential partners and customers.

In Greater London, over half the species data currently available via the NBN Gateway belong to GiGL partners. These data are displayed in accordance with our accessing data policy and in the case of protected species are generalised to 10km resolution, making them accurate enough to inform national distribution maps but not to inform local planning decisions. In order to use these data via the Gateway, users must first apply for permission from the GiGL team. Unfortunately, many potential customers and partners have been using the Gateway without permission from GiGL in preference to funding GiGL’s services, something we can easily trace using the behind the scenes functionality of the Gateway tool.

New guidance from the National Biodiversity Network will change this for the better. This guidance for local authorities and environmental consultants covers a range of planning-related activities, from desk studies by environmental consultants to the broad range of responsibilities of local authorities.

The guidance advocates working with the relevant local records centre (including GiGL in Greater London) as the local delivery partners of the National Biodiversity Network and the recognised sources of up to date and high resolution information on the end users’ areas of interest. Most crucially for GiGL, in trying to tackle inappropriate use of the NBN Gateway, the new guidance sets out the terms and conditions of its use.

We will regularly assess use of our partners’ NBN-hosted data to ensure users seek our permission for its use where relevant. These regular assessments will also ensure that our partnership and other service users  reflect the full range of organisations and individuals that need access to our partnership’s data to inform local, regional and national decisions. We will also be working closely with the National Biodiversity Network, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, the Association of Local Government Ecologists and other relevant organizations through ALERC to further strengthen the guidance and to ensure that decision-making in London is based on the most up to date and accurate data available.

An article providing information to consultants was published in the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s December edition of ‘In Practice’, and guidance for local authorities was written in conjunction with the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC) and the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) and distributed to local authorities by the local records centre network.

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