Blog by Professor Stewart Brymer OBE, WS
24 October 2017 saw the launch of a new and intuitive online tool which will lead to more information about land and property in Scotland being more readily accessible to citizens as well as to business users such as planning consultants, solicitors and surveyors.
The Scottish Land Information Service (‘ScotLIS’) as a concept was first discussed in 2000 or thereby but the technology required to enable its delivery was not sufficiently robust. In 2015 a conference was organised by Unifi Scotland at which the case was made for an online portal similar to ‘Infoland’ which was developed in Norway by the Norwegian Land Information Company – now called Ambita. At the conference, the Deputy First Minister announced the formation of a Task Force to investigate the concept further and prepare a business case. Following the report of the Task Force, Registers of Scotland (RoS) accepted the remit of developing the concept as part of its digital transformation programme.
In its first iteration ScotLIS displays core property data held by RoS and is free to access. It is an easy to use map-based online land information system. Once a postcode has been inserted, search results are displayed which allow users to identify properties titles of which have been registered in the Land Register. It also defines properties which are not yet on the Land Register. If the user wishes to interrogate the system further, this can be done by following the links where additional paid for information can be obtained.
It is important to stress that this is only the first step towards all information on land and property in Scotland being able to be viewed online in a transparent manner. More work still requires to be done to capture other relevant information. Some of this information such as school catchment areas, details of coal-mining areas, and other such relevant data will be able to be captured relatively easily. Other data will require to be checked/cleansed prior to being uploaded. Obviously, this will enable an analysis of the underlying intellectual property rights in such data before it is uploaded on either a free or a ‘pay per view’ basis. In particular, this will require detailed discussions with local authorities so that the important data which these bodies hold can be made available. Such discussions are ongoing.
Data is big business these days. Owners of data are entitled to receive a return from their investment in keeping the data current. There is obviously an issue of conflict between ‘open source’ and ‘paid for’ data. It is suggested however that this is neither a new nor an insurmountable problem. If we want to have a modern digital economy where information can be accessed in an open and transparent manner then government needs to support progress towards the next version of ScotLIS.
Other countries are also developing similar models. In England and Wales for example, HM Land Registry has launched ‘Digital Street’ as a proof of concept. It is hoped that a UK-wide system could be developed building on the excellent initiative undertaken by RoS. Before we say that this cannot be done, we should step back and look at how ‘Infoland’ works for the benefit of the citizen in Norway. It has, quite frankly, transformed the house-buying/selling process by providing a trusted dataset of information which can be accessed at a range of price levels. It is used by citizens, lenders and solicitors alike. Is it really such a big step to contemplate us having something similar here? The use of planning portals is now the norm. ScotLIS is simply the next step on the road to better and more useful information being available as a result of a ‘one stop shop’.
ScotLIS can be accessed through our dedicated website.