Local councils in the UK hold a massive amount of public information but providing access to that information can be a frustrating process. However, in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in Surrey the council has hit upon an original solution.
The council's integrated spatial information system, Isis-Online, started out as a planning information site, providing the public with a full planning history for every property in the area going back to 1947 and building control records going back to the 1880s. But since then it has grown into a multifunctional Web site for local residents.
The council started developing the system in June 2000, using software from geographic information system (GIS) and mapping firm ESRI. It then began a six-month internal pilot on the council's intranet before going live on the Internet in March.
"The six months gave us an opportunity to add extra functionality," says Steve Wagstaff, the council's GIS development officer. "We had built the structure and knew we could add on other areas. It's constantly evolving."
The council added building control information, aerial photographs and a facility enabling users to receive information on local amenities and parking restrictions. The council's biggest problem now is the sheer amount of information on the site. To address this it is building a search engine on its main Web site which will direct users to the Isis-Online site for specific information.
Local residents use Isis to monitor planning applications, homebuyers use it to research the area and the site also receives hits from planning consultants, says Wagstaff. This saves council staff time as they don't have to locate planning information or send photocopies through the post. Even the geography department at the local university uses it.
Since it went live in March the site has received hits from 6,000 different users and has generated over 400,000 different map views of the borough - all of which would previously have been dealt with by council staff.
Wagstaff says the council has received positive feedback via the site's online feedback form. It has also been approached by a number of other local authorities which are interested in setting up similar offerings.
And the council is still developing the site. Later in the year, residents should be able to report local problems such as abandoned cars or faulty streetlights direct to the council, using an interactive Isis map positioned on the main council Web site.
"It's ground-breaking," says Wagstaff. "It opens up a massive amount of information and presents it in one digestible format via a map."