What benefits can be delivered by geospatial green space data?

A Government initiative to make it easier for people to locate and use green spaces rolled into action this July, promising to transform communities, governments and businesses.

Greenspace Map participants including Greenspace Scotland chief executive Julie Procter - image: Greenspace Scotland
Greenspace Map participants including Greenspace Scotland chief executive Julie Procter - image: Greenspace Scotland
Ordnance Survey completed mapping parks and green spaces across Great Britain, following a similar project from Greenspace Scotland and the Scottish Government in 2011.
The free OS Greenspace map, which can be viewed online or through an OS map app, aims to promote healthier and greener lifestyles to communities, businesses and developers. OS has also produced OS MasterMap Greenspace, a public-sector version, aimed at equipping professionals with enough data to help them improve planning, analysis and decision-making.
OS MasterMap Greenspace contains the location of all publicly accessible and non-accessible green spaces in the hope that it will prompt the public sector to create and manage more health and well-being strategies as well as environmental initiatives. These include:
  • Air quality and biodiversity projects.
  • Housing regeneration.
  • Flood resilience.
  • Green prescriptions in GP surgeries.
The so-called "geospatial data" can transform not only communities but also governments and businesses, insists OS chief executive Nigel Clifford. OS MasterMap will be of much more interest to green space professionals, landscape architects, planners, managers and researchers because it provides a comprehensive dataset covering all green space in urban areas, public and private.
Greenspace Scotland chief executive Julie Procter says the starting point for OS MasterMap was the 2011 "Scotland’s Greenspace Map". A key challenge then was how to keep it up-to-date and consistent in categorisation. The Scottish team has been working with OS since 2012 to develop a method of producing and maintaining the green space map. This is it.
"The new OS MasterMap Greenspace product does this and more," says Procter. "It adds even more detail and much better representation of natural green space including woodland. Green space managers and health professionals noted that accessibility of green space is critically important, so access points were included in the OS map allowing for detailed analysis of ways into green space."
OS MasterMap Greenspace now covers all urban areas in England, Wales and Scotland. It is free to local authorities, central Government, national agencies such as the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and the NHS. Over the next month, it will be made available to academic users.
Procter says this will foster collaborative work. "It provides an amazing resource for planners, policymakers, researchers and green space managers. It can support cross-boundary work on green networks and regeneration, and when combined with datasets on health and deprivation can be used to support prioritisation, policy development, research and the targeting of resources and investment to areas with low levels of green space."
Green space data will be maintained and updated every six months. In the first "alpha" release, OS expects some minor errors, omissions or mis-categorisations, and that is why it developed a bespoke feedback tool for the green space products. Procter insists it is important that users give feedback on any errors or recent land-use changes for them to be blended into the next release.
Parks for London chief executive Tony Leach is more guarded. "It’s great to have accessible OS maps but I couldn’t find anything to explain the categories of green space," he says. "On closer examination I discovered public and private sports land is not differentiated, so it could lead to confusion. I’m not sure the maps will be used by local authorities to produce green space strategies."
David Brown, who runs Occam’s Razor Consulting, which provides detailed survey and mapping services to local authorities, delivery organisations and social landlords, says he is familiar with the content of other OS offerings and it does not "take very long to discover surprising omissions, for example parks, and also features which don’t actually exist".
He suggests: "It would be interesting to know more about the methodology and metadata. It is also interesting to compare the OS product with OpenStreetMap, created by a non-profit foundation that supports development of freely reusable geospatial data. Notwithstanding these criticisms, the map is a great deal better than nothing.
"OS says the map will be revised every six months. I would be interested to know how OS will manage updates. There is a great deal of energy and expertise devoted to maintaining the OpenStreetMap and users are able to update the maps themselves, A comparison might prove interesting."
Landscape consultant Peter Neal agrees. "The new map's real benefit is likely to go beyond use by the general public as a way to find and access their local parks and green spaces as this is already easy to do with existing online maps. Greater value is likely to be from using the data as a spatial planning tool and for use by third-party developers.
"But for this the information needs to be accurate and kept up-to-date. The real interest is whether the mapped layers can be easily extracted and integrated with other data and used in a variety of new and innovative ways. Examples include using it to accurately to calculate the total number and area of parks within each local authority area for the very first time."
Other uses of data:
  • Indicating how balanced and accessible provision is across the country, particularly for more deprived communities.
  • Recording quality in a standard manner to show where the best and poorest spaces are to help target investment.
  • Correlating data with health statistics to promote more active lifestyles where this matters the most.
"If this can be achieved," says Neal, "then the new green space map could have immense value."

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