Data Searches and Planning

Current best practice guidelines set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s (CIEEM) code of professional conduct advocate accessing a robust and up to date evidence base at key stages of the planning application process. In Greater London, planning authorities and environmental consultants achieve this via accessing GiGL services.

GiGL is the most comprehensive source of environmental data in Greater London. It is vital this is used by planning authorities and developers to make informed decisions.

The below table shows the number of planning applications received by each London Borough in 2016 (courtesy of DCLG). Compared to these are the number of GiGL data searches commissioned and completed within each borough for the same time periods. The table shows the incredibly low percentage of data searches to the number of applications.

Not all planning applications received by the London Boroughs will have an environmental impact. However, we argue that these statistics highlight the marked deficiency of accurate ecological knowledge, established through GiGL data searches, for a large number of planning applications in the capital.

Environmental consultants who commission reports from GiGL access the same evidence base as our local authority partners, ensuring that local decisions are informed by the same information. Environmental consultants who choose not to commission a report from GiGL, opting instead to harvest ‘free’ resources online such as Magic and the National Biodiversity Network Atlas (NBN) are consciously bypassing the most up to date natural environment evidence base and providing an inadequately informed assessment. They are breaking the terms and conditions of data supply, and this may also compromise your compliance as a public body with both the NPPF and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC)

The key issues:

  • The NBN terms and conditions do not permit the commercial use of Atlas derived data without prior written permission from all data providers
  • The majority of London data on the Atlas belong to GiGL partners, and GiGL does not give written permission for the commercial use of our partners’ data via this route
  • The majority of data on the Atlas are not provided at a fine enough resolution to inform local decisions, with most protected species information available at 10km resolution[1]

GiGL recommendations:

  • Any relevant application without evidence of a full data search from GiGL should be rejected on the basis it has not accessed the recognised London evidence base[2] Information about our Data Searches is available here. An example of the report summary sheet that our customers have permission to publish is available here[3]
  • Notify GiGL of all applications that contain Atlas-derived reports in order that we can work with the NBN on enforcing the terms and conditions at a national level.
  • Your planning authority makes applicants aware of the information requirements via your website, validation checklist or pre-application guidance as recommended in para 193 of the NPPF[4]

We will be keeping an up-to-date log detailing the number of applications versus the number of data searches undertaken on a per borough basis for our partners’ reference.


[1] A 10km square covers a larger geographic area than most London boroughs

[2] para 165 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that ‘planning policies and decisions should be based on up-to date information about the natural environment and other characteristics of the area’

[3] GiGL data search reports are supplied for internal use only and must not be published as part of an application

[4] Local planning authorities should publish a list of their information requirements for applications