GIS used to digitise brownfield land sites and inform planning in the Black Country

This guest post was contributed by Christopher Styche from the Black Country Observatory.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) were used as a tool for analysis in a project looking at brownfield land across the Black Country during the end of 2006–2007.

The purpose of the project was to inform policy makers involved with the implementation plans for the Black Country and emerging core strategy.

There was a strong partnership approach to this work with representatives from all four local authorities (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton), as well as the Homes and Community Agency and Advantage West Midlands.

This post describes the project step-by-step and the role of GIS within the project.

The following GIS tools were used within the project to analyse data:

  • Most recent National Land Use Database (NLUD) returns and work undertaken for the Brownfield Land Action Plan
  • The current derelict land database
  • Aerial photography
  • UDP maps
  • RELS returns
  • Planning guidance
  • Urban capacity studies
  • Annual monitoring reports
  • Existing studies of vacant and derelict land

Developing the evidence base

Stage one: scoping and database build

This was carried out by Black Country Observatory with local knowledge from local authorities.

This stage involved liaison with the four Black Country authorities and the Black Country Consortium in order to review the current database of brownfield land.

There was a variety of quality, detail and reliability of data across the authorities. It was necessary for the Black Country Observatory to developing a baseline of sites through the assimilation of working files, GIS layers, and planners’ local knowledge.

In addition, new brownfield sites were established and created through the use of a number of sources including aerial photography. This was a substantial piece of work that also included digitising sites and data cleansing, carried out by Black Country Observatory.

Stage two: fieldwork

This stage was carried out by Mott MacDonald.

The data gathered in stage one needed to be cross-checked by physical ‘walk-overs’ of existing sites on the database.

In addition, a survey of other land within the local authority was undertaken to fill in the gaps and increase the completeness levels to as close to 100% as is realistically possible.

Mott MacDonald worked with the local authorities and Black Country Observatory to establish which existing NLUD sites would need to be checked and which areas should be visited in the local authority to pick up sites not established in stage one.

Stage three: data validation

A drafted list of walkover sites was then returned to the Black Country Consortium for review.

Validation checks of the walkover sites were carried out on the data to confirm new sites. This was carried out by Black Country Observatory with the local authorities.

Given that local authorities were carrying out further site surveys as part of their Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, where this information was available, it was supplied to Black Country Observatory to be incorporated into the brownfield land database.

In addition, the Black Country Observatory spent time with Walsall and Dudley to input mandatory NLUD information about each site, including current use and previous use of sites.

Output of the project

The final output of this study is an accurate, digitised, record of all previously developed land and buildings in the Black Country.

The database will be held in both Excel and GIS formats of sites, including results from site surveys from the walkovers.

Outcomes of project

This project has a number of outcomes, given the importance of brownfield land to the Black Country.

As a tool, GIS can be used in conjunction with a range of other data, including indices of multiple deprivation, key land assets, canals and flood plains, schools, health facilities, areas of potential housing growth, key Urban Regeneration Companies and local authority projects, and so on.

It informs and allows for strategic decision making at a sub-regional level and supports planning decisions at a regional level.

The database, when mapped with regeneration corridors and strategic centres, for example, helps provide the evidence to support prioritised delivery options, and as such directly informs the Core Strategy Delivery Plan.

In addition it will be used across a range of functions, including informing Site Allocation documents, measuring progress against NI 170, informing the Black Country Investment Plan, and supporting housing delivery.

Finally, as a pilot area for the Homes and Community Agency (HCA), it is possible that for a sub-set of sites, the HCA will provide evidenced assessments of market perceptions of the current deliverability of specific sites and the key barriers to their early delivery.

Presentation of data

The results from the site reviews are available primarily in MapInfo GIS format and Microsoft Excel spreadsheet(s).

The GIS/Excel database contains the full listing and categorisation of sites, together with metadata detailing the methodology used, and any caveats in regard to the data therein. We can provide detailed plots of all the sites, and these will be available in both digital and hard copy formats.


It is fundamental to the success of this project that the data is managed and maintained going forward.

The Black Country Observatory will maintain the data, giving each local authority the relevant data and polygons to use in filing their NLUD returns.

Once the baseline is established the annual return will be completed by the local authority, with direct support from the Black Country Observatory.

We are currently working with the local authorities to determine how this data, along with the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment sites, can be monitored to ensure that minimal walkovers will be required in the future.

For further details or enquiries please contact:

Sophie Thompson
Black Country Consortium Ltd

Tel: 01384 471116

This guest post was contributed by Christopher Styche from the Black Country Observatory.

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