Promoting INSPIRE compliance and collaboration across Wales
Gwynedd Council has developed a web mapping service that reduces the cost and complexity of complying with the European Union (EU) INSPIRE directive. It is now making its GIS-based service available to neighbouring councils so that other Welsh local authorities can save money and avoid EU penalties.
Gwynedd Council (Cyngor Gwynedd) is a local authority in North Wales. Its area of responsibility encompasses many significant historical sites and areas of natural beauty, including Caernarfon Castle and Mount Snowdon.
Esri’s ArcGIS platform makes council data sets accessible in multiple formats, as downloads or via a map viewer
Gwynedd Council saves time and money as it no longer has to respond to as many individual requests for data
Local authorities can cut costs by not using a third party supplier to help them meet the terms of the EU INSPIRE directive
The INSPIRE directive was introduced by the European Union (EU) in 2007 with the aim of improving the accessibility and interoperability of public spatial data. Yet, for many local authorities, this well intentioned directive has become an administrative headache and a much-resented drain on diminished financial resources.
Gwynedd Council had published some data sets in compliance with INSPIRE, but by 2014 the directive was still little understood outside of the geographic information system (GIS) department. Aled Owen Jones, GIS technical lead at the council, says: “People either didn’t know about INSPIRE or didn’t see it as a priority, given our resource constraints. Even when data was available in a digital format, it wasn’t always easy to make it accessible.”
Then, at an all-Wales local government meeting, convened by the Welsh Assembly, Gwynedd Council realised that it wasn’t alone in having these issues. Other council representatives present at the conference all lamented that they had neither the technology nor the resources to deliver fully on the INSPIRE agenda.
The GIS team at Gwynedd Council therefore decided to take the lead in developing a new web mapping application – not only to help it comply with the requirements of INSPIRE, but potentially to assist all the councils in Wales.
People either didn’t know about INSPIRE or didn’t see it as a priority, given our resource constraints. Even when data was available in a digital format, it wasn’t always easy to make it accessible
Aled Owen Jones – GIS Technical Lead at Gwynedd Council
A long-term customer of Esri UK, Gwynedd Council used its existing ArcGIS platform to develop an interactive web mapping service, http://inspire.gwynedd.gov.uk/inspireportal/. Visitors to this web site select the geographical area that they are interested in (e.g. Gwynedd) and are presented with a list of available data sets.
They can then access any of these data sets immediately, by:
- Importing the data directly into their own systems as a web service, in a choice of formats including WMS and WFS
- Downloading the data as a zip or XML file for offline use
- Or viewing it on the web site using a map viewer that draws on Ordnance Survey vector mapping, including 3D representations of buildings.
In the future, Gwynedd Council can add further layers of data – and indeed additional council areas – very quickly and easily, without the need for changes to the underlying application code. What is more, when data is updated or changed in a council’s central database, it can be automatically refreshed on the INSPIRE web service, so once a data set has been loaded and set up once, no further manual intervention is required to keep it up-to-date.
We have shown that there is an easy way to comply with INSPIRE. We hope our web service will encourage many other councils in Wales to collaborate with us and share data
Aled Owen Jones – GIS Technical Lead at Gwynedd Council
Gwynedd Council now has a state-of-the-art mechanism for publishing data in line with the INSPIRE directive and is at no risk of receiving any penalties from the EU for non-compliance. It has published data on car parks and schools and, as more and more data sets are digitised, it will be able to effortlessly expand the range of data available via its INSPIRE web service.
The more data sets that Gwynedd Council adds, the more time and money it will save internally by eliminating unnecessary administrative tasks. It will no longer have to manually prepare data sets to send out in response to individual requests for information, as everyone will be able to go directly to the web site and get the latest data for themselves in whatever format suits them best.
To help other councils in Wales, Gwynedd Council is now offering its web service to other local authorities for a small fee. Many Welsh councils currently rely on third party agencies to help them meet the requirements of INSPIRE, so these organisations can potentially make considerable savings by collaborating with Gwynedd Council.
In recognition of its innovation, Gwynedd Council was awarded an Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award 2014. Jones says: “We have shown that there is an easy way to comply with INSPIRE. We hope our web service will encourage many other councils in Wales to collaborate with us and share data.”
The whole rationale behind the EU INSPIRE directive was to make information available to everyone in Europe – and Gwynedd Council’s INSPIRE web service certainly delivers on this aspiration. Now, anybody can access selected council data sets for free and make use of them to enrich their lives or provide better service. For example, ramblers can add car park information to their web sites of favourite walks, while estate agents can add accurate schools information to property details.
“Our dream is to open up our INSPIRE web service to all councils in Wales, so that we can all make much more data accessible to anyone,” Jones declares. And with this passion and commitment, he and his colleagues are now reaching out to other councils across the country.