PlanningAlerts.com in the Guardian

When I saw Richard Pope at the OKFN Civic Information Forum speak about PlanningAlerts.com, I wanted to get involved straight away. Richard was prompted to build a more usable and proactive interface to local council planning databases after a local pub was demolished without warning. Well there was a warning .. but he wasn’t scanning the planning applications daily to keep track. So, mySociety style, he built a screen scraper to do it.

Today the Guardian profiles Planning Alerts, in part of the Free Our Data Campaign.

I had been thinking along similar lines after researching Weaver House, and being surprised that my friends had moved into the middle of the largest construction project ever in the UK. So far, I’ve completed about 90% of a screen scraper for Tower Hamlets, which uses a system called Planning Online for publishing planning applications. That system is widely used, so Camden, the New Forest, and dozens of other planning bodies aren’t far behind. I’d also like to see GeoRSS available along side email.

Seeing the huge efforts required to influence data access policies at the international and national, lately I’ve been more inclined to focus at the local level. The possibility to have a say and get in touch with responsible people is much greater. Successes here can aggregate together to influence at a higher level, a bottom up approach. Local bodies know much more about their local geography than any other agency or company, but they lack an easy system for maintaining that data set, so that for instance the Ordnance Survey receives reports of change from councils (via intermediaries), surveys and produces maps, and then sells that same data back to council in a digestible form.

Once an area of OpenStreetMap is complete, it would be ideal to have the council involved in updating the map. But better to hedge bets with a screen scraper. Road network changes are not published in the same open way as planning applications, but they can be gotten. Brighton publishes a dynamic map of roadworks and incidents, which does include information on new layouts and restrictions. I’ve scraped this into GeoRSS, by crudely geocoding image map locations into geographic locations. MetaCarta Labs Map Rectifier was a help here; I rectified the base image to get the rough bounding box of the image. A feature request would be an way to take any point in image space, and transform to lat/long by the specified warping.

Update: Turns out the Map Rectifier can transform image coordinates into geographic coordinates, it just hasn’t been exposed yet. So this url returns a bit of JSON. The GeoRSS being produced by the scraper is now properly positioned. Thanks guys! So all that’s left to do for my Brighton OSM monitoring page on Mapufacture is to supporting OpenStreetMap tiles!

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