Local Authority Officials Share Their ‘Go-To’ GIS Datasets
GIS Officials from Tipperary County Council, Galway City Council, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council discuss the role of GIS in planning and effective decision making in their local authorities.
Some of the most prominent users of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and OSi data are the 31 local authorities across Ireland.
We wanted to explore the role that GIS is playing in Ireland’s renewed, post-recession development and discuss what changes, might be on the horizon for the Irish GIS community. We had a chat with 3 senior GIS officials in councils across the breadth of Ireland in Tipperary, Galway and Dublin to find out.
Eddie Meegan, IT Project Leader with Responsibility for GIS, Tipperary County Council
Eddie tells us about the key datasets being used in Tipperary County Council right now and why PRIME2 is the most important immediate development in GIS.
Important Datasets for Tipperary County Council
Large Scale Vector
The large scale vector is the most widely used dataset in the Tipperary County Council, particularly by engineers, scientists and planners.
The large scale vector provides us with a highly detailed map. We put everything on top of this; county development plans, road designs, derelict sites etc. Our planning section plot zoning and development objectives and then they overlay information from third parties such as the Department of the Environment, before they colour code it and create maps from that.
In terms of third party data, one to mention would be the Natura 2000 data from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This provides information on natural heritage areas, special areas of conservation and special protection areas. We’ve found this information to be in constant demand and commonly used in our area.
The gas networks dataset is one which we find ourselves using more and more in Tipperary County Council. Many people use the gas networks with a view to health and safety: “Where is there a gas main and how can we avoid it?” But, we’ve actually been using the gas network information to establish the areas that have access to energy supply and note the areas that are deprived.
The overall objective of this is to identify and establish a sustainable energy system for Tipperary. For example, if we found a house had access to a gas network, then renewable energy services could be squeezed out from that location. On the other hand, if this location was deprived of access to a gas network, then there could be an opportunity to apply renewable energy services there. In this case, the renewable option might include wind energy and biomass energy (wood chips, wood pellets).
Changes in GIS? PRIME2 Will Be the Driver
I don’t see any big changes coming to GIS other than PRIME2 making the collection and management of data easier. Before, the data was somewhat unstructured and relied heavily on the draft person’s ability to get a high quality data output. Now, to some extent, it will be a matter of copying and pasting PRIME2 data from OSi data into another dataset, then adding value to it there.
There’s less plotting and manual data capturing being done by our team. One of our functions is to train other departments to do it themselves. For a larger project like the county development plan we provide support to make sure that they are backing up their data properly and that they have it in a well-structured format.
New Thinking with GIS
We were recently looking at putting up an RSS alert feed (Rich Site Summary; often called Really Simple Syndication uses a family of standard web feed formats to publish frequently updated information on a website) that we can overlay on our maps so you can plot the location where the news event applies to. If a road was closed, you could overlay the warning onto the road’s position. That could be later this year.
Niamh Farrell, GIS Co-ordinator, Galway City Council
Niamh discusses the role of GIS in Galway’s planning application management, its social housing section and its road projects.
Important Datasets for Galway City Council
Planning is our most requested dataset. Information on planning applications generates a lot of hits on our website.
In order to display planning data, we use background mapping and aerial photography from OSi.
Also, internally, when planning applications are being drawn up by our technicians, they would use Ordnance Survey Ireland maps to look at the boundaries of the planning application and would access digital survey maps to transfer the boundaries onto our own systems.
We have our own intranet GIS that we use, then we pull OSi data from their servers into ours so we’re reading it directly rather than using their portal as such.
Vector Mapping and Aerial Photography – Social Housing Development
We have a very active social housing section here in Galway, so we rely on the mapping data to keep track of our housing lands. We rely on OSi’s detailed vector mapping and aerial photography to keep track of our housing lands and what their status is or identify new sites to see what their potential is, or to see if they could be used for developing housing.
LiDAR and 3D
For our various road projects in Galway City we use the OSi LiDAR dataset because it gives very detailed 3D topography and elevation models for excavating and ground preparation for road projects. We integrate all of our data here and we have a central depository for storing our spatial data. Then, users depending on their role and their rights can access various cross-departmental datasets. OSi mapping is the basis for it all and various data can be overlaid on top of it.
For example, we have the water and drainage network mapped out and the contour data which again, come from OSi.
There’s also the location of our education providers, primary, secondary and third level. We also have data on the location of the biggest employers in the city and datasets from the central statistics office regarding our population. We would also have spatial datasets showing the location of our sporting facilities.
Interestingly, sometimes we would have queries for OSi about historical datasets and very often our users will come looking for this and historical aerial photography to see how an area has been developed over a number of years.
In other instances, something might have been built illegally over the years and there’s a need to backtrack and look at the data to see how this occurred. So OSi has this archival role, but I think that they are also very forward thinking, as you can see with the continued development of products like MapGenie and Prime2 for example.
What makes the role interesting is that they have to keep one eye on the past while also moving forward with their technology.
Changes in GIS? GIS Weathers the Storm
When the economic crash happened here, we found there was actually more demand on our services with the likes of NAMA and other bodies looking for information from us. It’s always been busy and I don’t see it ever not being busy. I don’t see there being more of a pickup other than the volume of planning applications.
Malachy Hevehan, Chief Technician planning department, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council
Malachy explains just why PRIME2 is so central to the DLRCC today and delves into his expectations for the future of GIS in his department, including the continued shift to online services, increasing demand for data and the added pressure to maintain clean data.
Important Datasets for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council
The bread and butter for the planning department is the PRIME2 data. We’re using it for all our background mapping and our development plans, local area plans, urban framework plans and a recent project of ours called the Special Development Zone (SDZ) plan.
We’ve seen other departments getting more involved in GIS too, such as the parks department using PRIME2 data. It’s not just the vector data that we’d be using but it’s also the imagery and orthophotography and LiDAR data that we purchase from OSi. We use this data to make contours ourselves and mosaics and that sort of thing.
Orthophotography has been very valuable to us in the past. This gives us very visual clues of changes that have occurred over time. In recent years, there hasn’t been as much demand or urgency placed on these systems by customers…. We haven’t had a need for orthophotography since 2009, that’s not a big deal when things stay the same, but when there are fairly significant changes you want it to be reflected in your records of mapping and photographic mapping.
Changes in GIS? The Pressures of Increased Access to Data
Continued Shift to Online Services
Our planning department is evolving and we’re getting more into web mapping and the other sections of our local authority will likely follow us. This could create a demand for other products like MapGenie and historic data and imagery from OSi via the web. We’re just beginning down that road now, but we think it will be a very important part of our work in the future. We could be pushing data out to the public and using OSi data as a context for that.
Because we are going through a process of upgrading our own services, the web aspect of MapGenie will become much more important and probably as important to us as the traditional services that OSi provides.
This being said, I think we will always need the traditional reserve of the vector mapping stored in our own servers.
Increasing Importance of Updates
We’re tied to a timeline once we start our development plan process and we can’t wait around on updates — we use the data that we have. It’s a two-year process, as data becomes available we replace the older data with the new. We would of course be checking constantly to see if there were updates for the specific area we were developing. That hasn’t been so relevant in the past few years as there’s been little change because of the slowdown in building. I think that’s going to change in the next few years.
Meeting Increasing Demand
I think we’ll probably get more pressure from the outside to tidy up our data because more and more people will have access to it. I think more people have looked at our OSi data through our development plan website than have done so in paper form in all the years since we started creating these plans back in the 1970s. This would be one change that could see our data come under tighter scrutiny. That’s not a bad thing — we want to keep our data clean and as up to date as possible.