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 manages and provides easy access to 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 2018 (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, but we know from the results of the research undertaken by the Greater London Authority in 2016 that the percentage of applications informed by a GiGL data search should be closer to 18%.

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 that only consume open data from MAGIC and the National Biodiversity Network Atlas are actively choosing not to follow their profession’s best practice guidance and are likely to provide an inadequately informed assessment as a result. 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 Creative Commons licences used to publish data via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas provide access to open data (CC-BY, CC-O and OGL licences) and shared data (CC-BY-NC licence). As of November 2018[1], nearly 60% of the data published on the Atlas are blurred to 1km resolution or less, so aren’t precise enough to inform site-based decisions. In addition, only 12% of the data on the Atlas are published under the licences that permit commercial use[2]. It is against the licence terms to view on screen or download the remaining 88% of records. Misuse of data will result in the National Biodiversity Network Trust issuing a fixed charge notice to anyone found in breach of the licence terms[3].
  • The Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC) is negotiating with national schemes and societies to gain access to shared data published via the NBN Atlas for use by local environmental records centres, making our services the only way to access these data for work relating to strategic or development management planning.

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[4] 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[5]
  • Notify GiGL of all applications that contain Atlas-derived data where it is unclear if shared data have been accessed, and the required metadata statements haven’t been included, in order that we can investigate further and work with the NBN Trust 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[6]

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.


[2] https://docs.nbnatlas.org/guidance-on-the-definition-of-non-commercial-use/

[3] https://docs.nbnatlas.org/data-licenses/breach-licence-conditions/

[4] 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’

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

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