The Way Forward with the Geospatial Commission - 16/11/2018

By the time you read this, we will be into the 2018/19 evening lecture sessions. These evening events are a real fulcrum of interaction, geospatial market insight, outreach and a coming together of professionals from across our sectors. In many ways a display of RICS ‘soft’ power, the power to influence. The first two lectures feature the national and international focus of RICS Geomatics. William Priest from the Geospatial Commission gave the first lecture in October and Clarissa Augustinus ex-head of UN Habitat GLTN will give the second lecture on 29 November. Clarissa's lecture is previewed in this issue of GW. I would encourage as many of you as possible to attend. The lectures are an integral part of RICS history and tradition (see DoS section below) and are your opportunity to enjoy and directly engage with your institution.

Thursday 24 January 2019 – UK Geo Forum – Cold War Mapping, USSR global coverage - The Red Atlas - the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (

Wednesday 27 February 2019 – Offshore/Marine lecture (joint lecture with UK Hydro society).

UK Geospatial Commission

Geospatial Commission is an impartial expert committee within the UK Cabinet Office, supported by £40 million of new funding in each of the next two years, and will drive the move to use public and private sector geospatial data more productively. RICS has worked hard to produce a well-rounded and holistic response to the Commissions call for evidence (

We have spoken to our geospatial colleagues at CICES, AGI, OGC and TSA and although we will all emphasis the vital importance of a national geospatial strategy and the critical capacity and training issues that we face in the UK (and globally), we have all tried to focus on sectors of specific interest and strength. RICS has concentrated on the following areas:

Geodetic Infrastructure - As a critical enabling framework for all geospatial activity.

Property and Land - RICS sees our core area of interest as the land & property sectors, we not only encompass professional chartered members in the geospatial sector but also valuation, development, residential and commercial property, building and quantity surveying, and facilities management. The land & property markets are central to the economic wellbeing of UK PLC and geospatial information, and its availability (with relevant & added value), is a central element of ensuring future integration of technology and use. The UK benefits from one of the most effective land & property taxation systems in the world (certainly in terms of percentage of GDP (OECD)) and the increased integration of mapping, legal registration/ownership, valuation and taxation information would help to encourage use. Automated valuation models (AVM) when combined with the England/Wales council tax regime could update a very out of date system. Denmark has already gone down this road. We would fully encourage the further integration of OS, HMLR and Value Office Agency (VOA) into a more solidified union. Geospatial data also underpins the Compulsory Acquisition regime in England/Wales - this is a fraught and complex sector which is dependent (due diligence) on access to a lot of localised and wide-scale geo datasets (amongst much more), geospatial data availability when aggregated with numerous other related land & property datasets that can ease the ‘transfer and compensation process’, and enable international land transfer standards such as ILMS ( to be used.

We have already mentioned the dire need for consistency in the provision of planning and development of geospatial information. RICS has been very impressed by the work of the satellite applications catapult and its test project with Milton Keynes on using high-resolution imagery to auto-update spatial planning (change detection) – a powerful tool which has global implications and use.

We have also mentioned the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the opening of rural payments information and land use data (land valuation and pricing information is very difficult to aggregate, unlike the mass of information available on residential property indexes).

Infrastructure and Construction - We have previously underlined the critical importance of OSNet and the UK geodetic network to infrastructure provision (we mentioned the densification of the OSNet network on HS2 and the machine control this enables), we would also highlight that geospatial data is spoken of mainly in connection with CAPEX construction expenditure (the actual physical construction) and whilst this is critical geospatial data, it also has a major role to play in the long-term strategic asset management that national and local infrastructure requires. OPEX expenditure (asset maintenance, upgrading, facilities management etc) usually greatly outstrips CAPEX and the long-term integration of a strong geospatial strategy will be key to the use of BIM, digital twin, smart cities & the management of the ‘digital’ built environment. A bit of a change of mindset.

We would also suggest that the concept on ‘infrastructure’ is broadened to include telecommunications and broadband connectivity, and future technology roll out (5G). Geospatial data has a major role to play in this. 5G technology is line of sight orientated and accurate city models such as those developed by the Manchester test bed Cityverve will become even more important.

Natural Resources - We believe you could extend this topic to include renewables and the national grid. Localised power distribution and provision (and perhaps blockchain supply chain technology) is becoming increasingly important. Geospatial technology has the power to unlock the connection between location and access to solar, planning, grant regimes, allowable development data and much more. Offshore development (The Geospatial Commission should develop links with Crown Estate) of wind and wave energy is reliant on the integration of land, coastal and offshore data sets, as is the management of coastal and offshore natural assets and the protection of the numerous (and recent) marine eco zones as designated by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

History of RICS Land Survey Division and DoS

The 150th-anniversary celebrations continue apace within RICS and we welcomed the hydrographic, Orkcadian (Orkney islanders), Canadian consulate and arctic explorer communities to our London HQ for an evening to celebrate the great arctic explorer John Rae. RICS was honoured to bring John Rae into our profession and confer RICS membership on the great man. The significance of Rae’s discovery of the Northwest Passage cannot be understated yet his unparalleled and breath-taking personal achievements in the most difficult and inhospitable conditions on earth were overshadowed by the truth he had uncovered about the Franklin Expedition. His unedited report of their folly and desperation, including reports of cannibalism, were dismissed in London and his career and reputation tarnished. More at

The emphasis on history has made us look again at the combined 1999 50th-anniversary history of the RICS Land & Hydrographic Survey Division and of the legendary Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DoS). We have scanned the original documents which can be downloaded and savoured at

Jim Smith FRICS was the author of the divisional history and the late, great Prof Michael A Cooper FRICS was the curator and driving force behind the DoS history. These personalised accounts from RICS members and DoS surveyors are gripping tales of ripping surveying yarns. From the wastes of South Georgia to the jungles of the Gold Coast, the amazing surveying, geodetic and mapping feat that was accomplished by these great surveyors cannot be understated. You really must read these accounts for yourself and reignite, again, the reasons that made us all want to become land and hydrographic surveyors. There is still adventure out there!

To quote Michael Cooper - ‘The ways of life and of work experienced by military and colonial surveyors in the decades following the end of World War II have ended, never to return. I therefore decided that in addition to publishing a formal historical account of the main events relating to the Division, I would attempt to put on record some members’ recollections of the last 50 years.’

Law Commission New Policy Statement on Changes to LRA 2002

In the last issue of GW, I reported on LRA 2002 as one of the most important pieces of primary legislation for professional surveyors in England and Wales. There are some very pertinent proposals on combating registry ‘fraud’ and completion of the land register itself. Recommendations that tackle fraud include enabling HM Land Registry to set the reasonable steps that conveyancers must undertake to verify the identity of their clients, to help route out fraudsters.

Other recommendations include:

  • Preventing the register from being changed once a mistake has been on the register for 10 years, to make the register more accurate and final.
  • Requiring evidence of interests that people want to protect with a unilateral notice at an earlier stage, preventing disputes at the Tribunal bringing mines and minerals onto the register.
  • Creating a new power to introduce electronic conveyancing that does not require completion and registration to happen simultaneously, to facilitate electronic conveyancing beefing up the powers of Land Registration Division of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) – including an express statutory power to determine where a boundary lies, so that parties do not have to re-litigate the same issue.


The final bullet-point is of great interest to RICS and for neighbour dispute expert surveyors. We have asked for policy clarification from the Law Commission and Land Registry on how this ‘express statutory power’ might be enabled by RICS chartered surveyors. We are also eagerly awaiting an in-depth interpretation of the outcome of Graham Leslie Lowe and Marilyn Elizabeth Lowe v William Davis Limited: [2018] UKUT 0206 (TCC).

Do keep an eye on various RICS channels for the release of the above outputs and hopefully we will see as many of you as possible at the 2018-19 geospatial surveying events and conferences, particularly GEO Business in May.

This article was published in Geomatics World November/December 2018

Last updated: 05/03/2020