Report calls for Land Use Taskforce

Findings draw on evidence from FFCC pilots, highlighting need for more coherent land use policy and shared datasets.

23rd May 2023

Today, Geospatial Commission’s National Land Data Programme (NLDP) publishes its report, Finding Common Ground: Integrating data, science and innovation for better use of land.

It follows months of research and testing with land managers and stakeholders across industry, academia, and local and national government to explore how the innovative use of data can support better decisions about land. The work included national roundtables, expert workshops and regional ‘on-the-ground' pilots.

In Devon and Cambridgeshire, FFCC and the Geospatial Commission led several projects to test a Land Use Framework, aiming to deploy better spatial data, involve communities, promote multifunctional land use and enable more inclusive decision-making about land.

Findings published by FFCC last month found that a Land Use Framework could help provide a roadmap for land use planning and decision making, but that better use of data is vital – and that utilising existing (good-enough) data and bringing it together effectively leads to better decisions.

Georgie Barber, FFCC’s Countryside & Land Use Lead, welcomed the report, highlighting the overlap between FFCC’s early conclusions and the findings released today:

“This report provides insight into the government’s approach to managing one of the greatest public policy challenges: land use. It adds to increasing calls for better land use policy, highlighting the need to have coherent policies that affect land, consider complex systems interactions and ensure opportunities for multifunctional use of land. These recommendations corroborate the findings from our own pilots, but also evidence from the National Food Strategy, the House of Lords Land Use Committee, The Royal Society and others.”

The report identified the need for a shared evidence base that integrates spatial data, technology and scientific knowledge to encourage more joined up land use decisions between government departments – rather than the siloed approach currently at play.

To support these findings, the report made a number of key recommendations:

  • Establish a Land Use Analysis Taskforce to hold shared datasets to improve spatial analysis
  • Champion the market for decision support and visualisation tools to enable better land use decisions which create multifunctional benefits
  • Strengthen the links between land use policy design, academic research and industry practice
  • Improve the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability of specific datasets

Georgie added, “Having clear, shared datasets to inform government policy is critical to making decisions about complex land use demands. If we hope to achieve the many targets government has set out that require land, these shared datasets will be absolutely crucial. The recommendations to champion markets for these data tools and to encourage academia, civil society and businesses to work together to bring greater clarity and information to these datasets are also welcome – and we look forward to seeing how the government take these proposals forward.”

She went on to highlight the importance of shared data in local decision-making – and the paths forward for a truly accessible land use data system.

“The report focuses on how data is applied by government at the national level, but it’s clear these datasets will also be vital for local decision makers who can help government meet its ambitions for land. Therefore, we would build on their recommendations for accessible data in two ways:

“Firstly, that these datasets be made available to local decision makers. Tricky land use decisions come down to the local, granular level: where to put this wind farm, or what should this field be used for, or how a village will respond to having a new housing development nearby. These decisions must consider local stakeholders, and therefore must be made at the local level. Secondly, that these datasets are presented in an accessible, useable way that non-experts can interpret – especially land managers, farmers and anyone else who is making decisions about land at the local level.”

With the government’s Land Use Framework expected later this year, this report comes at an opportune moment – and adds to growing calls from the House of Lords Land Use Committee, The Royal Society and others for the better use of data and a cross-departmental approach to support the delivery of multiple government targets, from energy and food to nature and housing.