Big Data: Land use statistics

Written by Jeni Tennison on 27 August 2014 in Features

Jeni Tennison from the Open Data Institute highlights a dataset which she says could be of use to local authorities.

Dataset  Land use statistics
Data owner  The Office for National Statistics
Accessed at

This dataset shows what proportion of land is taken up by homes, water, roads, railway lines and green space. It can be broken down by regions, local authority areas or smaller zones. 

I’ve picked this data set as it’s a particularly significant set with untapped uses. The most interesting way in which it can be applied is to help with regional resource planning. If a local authority, for example, looks at where the flood areas are – using data from the Environment Agency – and overlaps that with how land is being used, then it becomes clear which residential areas are in danger of flooding. This could help shape development policies and emergency responses.

To do this, you need someone who can put both datasets on a map and identify the areas of highest risk. While this is not rocket science, you do need someone who knows how to process data. And unfortunately, it is generally the case that capability in data processing is not particularly high in the public sector. 

The latest dataset is based on 2005 findings. You might think it would be out of date by now, but land use doesn’t change rapidly; and to get a more accurate current picture, this dataset can be combined with another from the Department for Communities and Local Government on changes in land use, produced every year.

The dataset could also be useful for policy officials working on housing development or the environment. It could show them the mix of housing and green space in a particular area, and the extent to which domestic housing has been built on green spaces rather than brownfield land. This information could be useful in deciding, for example, the regulatory environment or tax system for house-builders.

I don’t know which policy officials, local authorities or emergency response services are currently using this dataset. But I am almost certain that this type of data is not currently being used to its full potential. 

Jeni Tennison is the technical director of the ODI


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