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Would you like free data on the form and function of every building in the UK?

You are not alone.

In our previous two blogs on Open Building Footprints we began to look at the value, for the smart city agenda, of comprehensive open data on the form and function of cities' buildings. Here we argue that a step change in government attitude towards the release of building metadata is essential to maximum efficiency and sustainability within the UK's stock.

nformation on age for all buildings in the Netherlands ( 9,866,539) (Age combined with land use data and height enables building form to be predicted). Visualisation by Bert Spaan.

The issues

To equip themselves for the future, our cities need to maximise efficiency, effectiveness and competitiveness, whilst at the same time reducing energy consumption.

To do this cities require building stock of diverse enough form, flexibility and affordability to meet growing population demands. Stock must also be energy efficient, and of sufficient quality and interest to maximise liveability. It must also be unique enough to support the attraction of intellectual capital and external investment.

It is widely accepted that to increase efficiency and reduce resource wastage a more joined-up, efficient approach to the urban fabric, which harnesses new technologies, is required. However to achieve this a far more comprehensive and detailed understanding of the makeup and rate of change of the building stock, and embedded values within it, is also necessary. This cannot be achieved without greater access to more detailed data. The value of building attribute metadata is therefore predicted to grow.

European context

The need for national attribute databases providing reliable data to inform models of national stock composition, has been recognised in many European countries since the 1990s, largely as a result of energy legislation, and the shifting pattern of investment in industrialised countries from new build to adaptation.

Metadata is needed in many areas of analysis including the calculation of material stock flows, rates of change, stock diversity, resource reserves, building demand and energy efficiency. Such data is also of value to those working in planning, housing, construction and property development, conservation, community engagement, education etc. However energy legislation is currently driving demand in this field.

In 2011 problems with meeting this demand were highlighted by the Buildings Performance Institute of Europe in its ambitious study into the makeup of European stock. The research was undertaken to identify whether energy related policies and regulations could, based on existing data, be adequately monitored and assessed. The report concluded that ‘A key obstacle to this challenge is clearly our limited knowledge and understanding of existing buildings’.

At present many European countries’ view of their stock appears to be partial, with knowledge and access differing widely between countries and sectors. Kohler and Hassler argue that this largely stems from the focus of specific sectors on single stock areas with limited objectives. These include government interest in domestic and public stock, over commercial, owing to state investment particularly in social housing; construction industry interest in new build and technological innovation, and

conservation sector focus on designated assets which on average comprise only 1-2% of national stocks.

The most consistent and comprehensive records for building stocks relate to property tax and land ownership. Countries and cities willing to release these records as open data, or even to share them under restricted terms, have a significant head start in effective policy making compared to those that do not, as this enables

knowledge sharing and cross sector problem solving on a much larger scale.

The UK context

Many of the above reasons for lack of comprehensive metadata availability are mirrored in the UK. However the problem here could be largely solved, by government, through the release of two datasets within its control; OS footprint data (discussed in previous blogs), and property details held by the Valuation Office Agency. The VOA’s ‘Property Details’ database for dwellings was introduced in the 1970s and contains sixteen attribute classifications including building type, area, number of storeys and construction date. Information is as we understand it available for every taxable building in the UK. However this data is restricted even for academic purposes.

As a result, despite the government's aspiration to develop smarter more sustainable cities, the employment of new technologies to assist in analysis of the makeup of, embedded value within, and rate of change of the building stock, is near impossible.

Methods of developing and collating the same building attribute data but from alternative open sources will be discussed in future blogs. Government

funded research time could of course be better spent analysing the comprehensive

government dataset that already exists.

Perhaps we need a slightly smarter approach?

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