Have you ever seen a Bishop driving a bulldozer or a Curate using a compactor? This seems a strange question until you learn more about the Church of England’s land based assets.
To put you in the picture, the Church Commissioners’ minerals and mining portfolio covers approximately 750,000 acres. (Lancashire is just over 700,0001 acres to give you a sense of perspective). This makes it one of the largest geographic estates in the country. Who knew the Church of England was involved in primary industry such as mineral extraction?
The Church of England itself is no stranger to geography. Parishes and dioceses are geographic in their nature, so maps and boundaries are part of its structure. The land assets which are held and managed by the Church Commissioners for England help generate funds for its support and royalties are received for the extraction of minerals (such as chalk, sand and gravel), so the need for maps to help manage these physical assets is a natural step for an organisation with a wide-spread geographic footprint.
Moving from print to digital
Like many long-standing institutions, the Church Commissioners had carefully plotted its assets on paper maps. However, in 2002 the land registration act created a need to map and register its manorial mineral interests, demanding more information than a paper map could provide and requiring the information to be stored in a digital format so that data could be submitted in greater quantities for registration purposes. The deadline for registration was October 2013, but work needed to be started quickly due to the task ahead.
A six year project began in partnership with HM Land Registry with the aim of creating a digital map of all the land assets. This would support the new requirement for registration and collate the huge volume of dispersed map data that needed to be centralised, so that it could be shared and centrally updated.
More than just a map required
Due to the level of detail and accuracy required, the project made use of several of Ordnance Survey’s products including OS MasterMap Topography Layer to provide landscape details and 1:250 000 Scale Colour Raster to provide a background and the geographic context you expect to see on any map.
Access to these products was made possible through membership of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement or PSMA. The Church Commissioners are able to benefit from PSMA membership as they are classed as a parliamentary body. The majority of public sector organisations in England and Wales are also eligible for PSMA membership.
Working closely with their consultant, Infoterra, the Commissioners were able to create a large-scale digital map of their portfolio of land. However, what was created was far more than just a map – using different digital layers, information such as tenancy, historic ownership, mineral information and valuation data could be captured against each estate/property. The commissioners now had a tool that was much greater than a map of their estate – they had a valuable asset management tool.
What did the project deliver?
The result of this complex project created a resource that could be accessed and updated simultaneously by a large number of users, allowing updates to be made to a central digital system, replacing the previous paper-based map records.
Most importantly it supported the Commissioners in meeting the deadline for the Land registration act. Moving to a digital map solution made significant savings on the cost and time of updating this information in the future and reduced associated legal fees and administration costs.
The information can now be viewed by off-site managing agents and legal advisors, ensuring all future plans and registrations are consistent. You could be forgiven for saying that all these organisations are now singing from the same hymn sheet!
1 Based on ONS information (Table KS101EW – 2011 Census: National identity, local authorities in England and Wales)