Professor Stewart Brymer, Brymer Legal Limited and Iain McKay, Improvement Service
There have been a number of recent developments which have the potential to significantly improve the way in which information about Scotland’s Land and Property is managed and made available. A number of inter-related initiatives are being, or are about to be, launched, which together with new governance arrangements, suggest that the original aims of the Scottish Land Information Service (“ScotLIS”) may finally be realised.
In 2001 those involved with the ScotLIS project (http://www.scotlis.com) produced the following statements of intent:-
“The ultimate aim of the ScotLIS project is that of providing an integrated data set where the user obtains information from a range of providers by means of a single search enquiry. This will be facilitated by means of a gazetteer …….”
“The extent to which data from different suppliers will be integrated will be determined in the course of the ScotLIS pilot and through the ongoing development of the service.”
ScotLIS never progressed beyond the pilot stage for a number of reasons, mainly to do with the available technology at the time, but also due to the way in which the organisations involved viewed their own information. Since then a number of significant events have occurred including legislative change and most markedly the economic downturn which has led to serious review of the way in which the public sector will require to deliver services in future. For a more detailed review of the background to ScotLis, see an article by the authors in Greens PLB Issue 97 pp1-3.
In December 2009, Scottish Ministers signed the European INSPIRE Directive which places an obligation on them to publish information on a number of spatial data themes which contain environmental data. Those themes directly related to land and property are Addresses, Geographic Names, Cadastral Parcels and Buildings and the Directive explicitly specifies what information is required to be published and how this must be done using web services. This was a very important step on the road to the goal of joined-up property information.
In 2010 a joint venture was established between the Local Government Association and the Ordnance Survey to deliver a National Address Gazetteer for England and Wales by working collaboratively to combine the best features of the National Land and Property Gazetteer and Ordnance Survey address products. There are now plans to include Scottish data into the National Address Gazetteer and John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has given his approval to seek closer integration between the One Scotland Gazetteer and National Address Gazetteer, whilst retaining a Scottish identity. It was announced on 18 July 2011 that the National Address Gazetteer would be handled by the soon to be created Public Data Corporation.
The One Scotland, One Geography strategy for Scotland is due to be renewed in 2011 with the working title of “One Scotland : One Europe : One Geospatial” which reflects the current aspirations to consider Scotland in a more European context. This demonstrates the broad consensus that exists across Europe to deliver a unified picture of land and property information. A number of interested parties are being consulted on the content of the strategy and Scottish Government will have the responsibility for publishing it in due course.
The Scottish Government recently announced the establishment of a Spatial Information Board with the remit to implement the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure / INSPIRE Directive requirements. The Board’s membership will be drawn from senior officers from Scottish Government, NDPBs, SOLACE, NHS, AGI Scotland, Edina and the Registers of Scotland and it is chaired by Jim Mackinnon, Director and Chief Planner, Scottish Government. The Board is expected to report to a National Board overseeing public sector reform in Scotland. Five theme groups have also been established under the Board, with one of these having the remit for Land, Property and Addresses, which include Geographic Names and Buildings. Once the governance structure is established and functioning it should provide a clear reporting structure for land and property related information to Ministerial level. This was one of the key components missing from ScotLIS in 2001, as well as the links to other spatial initiatives.
Assuming that the above all materialise as anticipated, Scotland should be well placed to develop a land and property infrastructure which will be capable of supporting greatly improved services, including eConveyancing and improved asset management.
What does this mean for Conveyancing practice?
Up to date and readily accessible information on land and property is at the very core of the conveyancing service. It has been argued for many years that it is nonsensical for solicitors to have to have recourse to multiple data sets, some of which may not be comprehensive in their coverage or, indeed, be current. This is not in the best interests of either buyer or seller. Why should they be put at risk? It must surely be the case that in today’s information-based society that all relevant data on land and property is held in a copmprehensive and easily searchable database.This initiative is the catalyst for reform that has been required. Without it, the existing systems would grind on with little or no appetite for change.
It is unclear where the role of the private sector lies in this. Perhaps there might be a case for a form of public/private partnership? This would bring together the pioneering work undertaken to date by the public sector with a number of comprehensive datasets that exist in the private sector. Unifi Scotland (http://unifiscotland.com) is a think tank that was established a number of years ago to look at ways of improving access to and use of data on Land and Property with a view to having a government-backed definitive source of information. Anyone who is interested in contributing to that debate should contact the Chair through the website.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of their respective organisations or of the Scottish Government.
© Greens Property Law Bulletin