Wednesday 2 October 2013

OpenStreetMap at a Public Inquiry

Summary (tl;dr)

OpenStreetMap featured in a Public Inquiry about whether a particular route was a Public Right of Way (PRoW). I appeared as a witness at this Inquiry for Paul Sladen (another OSMer) regarding how it has been mapped on OSM. This post describes the unusual circumstances as to why the status of Lenton Road path is controversial, a bit about the history of the path, details of my statement and the hearing, and a little bit about other uses of OSM in official planning processes.

Gate at the Lenton end of Lenton Road.
The installation of this gate and later locking of the gate at night time
was one of the sources of disagreement about the status of the footpath.
Source: Mick Garratt on Geograph via Wikimedia Commons


In this blog I've mentioned a particular public footpath a couple of times. Little did I know that I'd end up appearing at the Public Inquiry into whether this route is indeed a public footpath.

This arose because Paul Sladen (sladen on OSM) came to the Nottingham pub meet-up in June. He arrived later than everyone else on his Brompton complaining that we'd chosen a pub at the top of the hill. It transpired that he'd been very busy gathering evidence for the (then) forthcoming Public Inquiry about the Lenton Road footpath in the Park Estate.

Paul was one of two private individuals who was providing evidence separately from Nottingham City Council. The other was Robert Howard, who happens to be an enthusiastic user of OpenStreetMap, although he's never had occasion to map. It was Robert's blog Park Views which had alerted me to the fact that there were some complicated legal issues about this path.

The Park Estate is a very unusual anomaly: it is a very large privately owned residential area. It was developed by the Duke of Newcastle on the former deer park of Nottingham Castle. Its governance is regulated by two private Acts of Parliament, the more recent of which may be at odds with the standard legislation on Public Rights of Way (CRoW Act 2000). (The anomalous status of the Park means that we should spend more time mapping it: not many cities have a huge area with such an interesting collection of oddities with respect to our normal mapping conventions.)

During the discovery phase of the inquiry a huge amount of evidence was made available by The Park Estate Ltd, but much of it was illegible or difficult to trace in the archives of the Dukes of Newcastle (at Nottingham University Archives and Manuscripts department). However, one of the items was a link to a screenshot from OpenStreetMap. As I had been the person who mapped the relevant features Paul asked me to be a witness. I accepted, although I knew it would involve quite a lot of work to ensure I was on top of my evidence.

The Geography of the Footpath

This section is in part an answer to a question Ollie O'Brien raised about cycling between the centre of Nottingham and University Park when he was at FOSS4G13. It also relates to some of the things I've blogged and talked about before: about how features in the urban landscape are persistent.

Ollie's question was why there was no direct way from the city to the University, and in particular why road routes which seemed to be leading in the right direction disappeared into small streets and a huge hospital. The answer lies in the geography and economics of the area in the Middle Ages!

Lenton was a small village on the River Leen at the time of Domesday Book:
[in time of King Edward (TRE), 1066] Olaf had 4 bovates of land to the geld. ... land half a plough. Now [1086] in the custody of William [Peverel]. There the same Olaf has 1 plough, and 1 villan and 1 bordar having 1 plough and 1 mill [rendering] 10s, and 10 acres of meadow and 10 acres of scrubland. TRE worth 10s, now 15s.
Its situation changed shortly thereafter when the Peverels who held Nottingham Castle and lands in Derbyshire established a Cluniac Priory outside the town of Nottingham in Lenton. They gave the livings of the three parishes in the town to the Priory: thus ensuring that their churches would be short of funds and preventing the creation of additional churches. All commerce in the town was closed down when the annual  fair was held in Lenton, showing the economic hegemony that the prior enjoyed. Although the string of villages on the Trent flood plain west of Nottingham (Lenton, Beeston, Chilwell) form a fairly obvious line of connection, routes between them were minor until well into the 19th century. The main road from Nottingham to Derby always seems to have run to the North of these villages, in fact not passing through anywhere significant until Stapleford on the county border. This is fundamentally why Ollie's journey was not as smooth as it might have been.

Unfortunately I cannot find much early information about the route of Derby Road. I can make two surmises. The first is that initially the Erewash and Leen were crossed by fords, and the current route reflects places suitable for fording a river without extensive boggy ground. The second is that more traffic to and from the town of Nottingham came in along the Ilkeston and Wollaton Roads. Certainly by the sixteenth century there was substantial haulage of coal from pits in Wollaton and Strelley to wharfs on the Trent, which bypassed the town centre on the roads now known as Upper and Lower Parliament Streets. The area to the South of the Park Estate was occupied by the Leen and was probably frequently wet or flooded (the Leen rises very quickly).

Sanderson's map of 1835, showing the route of Lenton Road as a path or track
(highlighted in red).
The Park Estate had not been developed at this time.
Thus the route from Nottingham Castle to Lenton appears to always have had the character of a bridleway or footpath rather than of a road suitable for haulage. Both Robert and Paul cited many examples from contemporary publications of the early nineteenth century which demonstrated how this route was seen at the time.

A later map (by Salmon in 1862) showing early stages of development of the Park Estate.
Source: Photo of old map (out-of-copyright) by SK53 via Wikimedia Commons

My Witness Statement:

Lenton Road, The Park Estate on OpenStreetMap

I decided that I needed to script my evidence, as I felt I was going to find it difficult to marshal the various things I needed to say in any sort of thread. Years ago I had a facility for speaking coherently off-the-cuff, but I seem to have lost it, probably when I stopped working as a researcher and practised as a consultant which involves a more discursive type of dialogue. (Also these days I'm much more nervous than I used to be about speaking).

I sent a copy to Paul to let him know what I intended to cover, and to ensure my evidence was available if anything prevented me attending in person. We discussed it on the phone, which resulted in me changing the order, and I corrected typos and a few linguistic infelicities: he'd make a very good and tough sub-editor! 

So here's my statement in full, with very minor redactions.
  1. My name is SK53 (redacted). I have lived in Nottingham from 1963 to 1985, and from 2005 to the present. I have also been an active contributor to OpenStreetMap (OSM) since December 2008. My evidence relates to two specific aspects:

  2. My personal use of the route consisting of Lenton Road and the footpath from Lenton Road to Park Road from the period from 1969 to 1985.

  3. How Lenton Road and the footpath between Lenton Road and Park Road is mapped on OpenStreetMap.

Personal Use of the Route

  1. I used the route along Lenton Road, the connecting footpath, and Park Road many times between 1969 and 1985. 

  2. I had a school friend who lived on Harlaxton Drive and when I visited his house after school we would frequently take one of two routes: from the City Centre via Lenton Road to Park Road, or from Castle Boulevard via the connecting footpath and thence along Lenton Road to Park Road. 

  3. At a later time (from 1975 to 1983) I had a number of friends who lived at various locations in the Park Estate itself, and returned late at night from their houses via the footpath connecting Lenton Road to Park Road.

  4. I can recall two specific occasions when I followed this route:

  5. 10th March 1975. A friend, G** M***, lived close to the junction of Lenton Road and Hardwick Road in the Park Estate. After an evening production of a school play we caught a bus to the Market Square and walked from outside Littlewoods on Long Row to his house along Friar Lane and Lenton Road. After a further chat I then walked along the footpath to Park Road and proceeded home to Wollaton Park Estate. I recall the date because it was his birthday and he received birthday kisses from two girls who lived in Sneinton.

  6. 15/16th August 1984. On either Wednesday, 15th August 1984 or Thursday, 16th August 1984, my brother had a 'stag-party' for his colleagues from work. This was a fairly sober affair as everyone was working the following day. After visiting pubs in the centre of Nottingham we returned to the flat of one of his colleagues in The Park Estate. My brother and I walked home via Lenton Road, and the connecting footpath to Park Road back to Wollaton Park Estate.

  7. I thus used this route over a considerable period of time, and in particular used it late in the evening as a quick way to return from the city centre to Wollaton Park Estate on foot. The existence of the unobstructed short footpath which has determined my belief that Lenton Road is different from other roads in The Park Estate. At no time during this period was I aware that this was anything other than a widely and commonly used right of way.

Open Street Map

  1. On 9th February 2009 I surveyed Park Road, Lenton with a view to capturing more detail for OSM in the area. I was particularly interested as at the time it was a part of Nottingham that I had not visited since the early 1980s. My aim for OSM surveys at the time were threefold: collecting traces by GPS to improve accuracy of mapping done from aerial images; collecting and verifying street names; and adding details of pedestrian paths (footways in OSM terminology). The route of this survey is available as a GPS trace on the OSM website.

  2. In the course of this survey I arrived at the small pedestrian path linking Park Road and Lenton Road in the Park Estate. I believe this linking footpath was a specific objective of this particular survey, as it had not been previously mapped and I remembered its existence as detailed above 

  3. After the ground survey I added this footpath as way id 30919191 to OSM, linking Park Road and Lenton Road. This was tagged as a footway (highway=footway) and with explicit permissions for access by pedestrians using the tag foot=yes. My confidence in the use of these tags was increased by the presence of an official Nottingham City Council notice designating this and the remaining part of Lenton Road as a Public Right of Way. This information was added to OSM as a note tag. 

  4. Additionally, I changed the tagging of Lenton Road to add the explicit pedestrian access (foot=yes), but also changed the general access to private (access=private). The history of the way shows that initially I chose access=permissive on the basis of the survey. In order to take account of the restricted access of motor vehicles to the Park Estate this was refined by altering the tag to access=private. As I had no knowledge of the access situation for cyclists and other potential classes of users I did not add information on these. 

  5. In general access tags in OSM consist of a general statement of access which can be refined by describing the access for specific classes of highway users: in this case access=* is the general tag, and foot=* the specific tag. I did regard it as important that the roads in the Park Estate be distinguished from other residential roads in the area, and the key factor was to ensure that motor vehicles were not erroneously routed through the Park Estate as a means of travelling between Derby Road and Castle Boulevard.

  6. To summarise, my mapping of this route in the Park Estate on 9th February 2009 was aimed at improving OSM data and usability. The goals were to allow through routing of pedestrians from Park Road to Friar Lane, and to prevent the through routing of motor vehicles from Castle Boulevard to Derby Road.

  7. In both cases I believe I substantially improved OSM as a representation of on-the-ground reality. The fact that these tags have not been altered in any major way in 4 years suggests that OSM mappers and users have not encountered any significant deviance which requires changes or elaboration of this tagging.

Evidence of Surveys

  1. I performed an additional survey on 18th February 2009, which inter alia, aimed to collect street names in the Park Estate and add the path from Castle Boulevard to Lenton Road. When updating OSM after this survey I changed general access tags on most other residential roads in the Park Estate. The footpath had already been added, with foot=yes, so no further tagging was required from my viewpoint. At a later stage, in 2011, another OSM mapper added the gate with the notice of access restrictions (see node 1454763414), but I did not notice the gate or any posted access restrictions on 18th February 2009.

  2. Routes followed on OSM surveys:

 The Public Inquiry

Lenton Road in The Park Estate, route of disputed right of way.
Whether the footpath follows the pavement on the left or right was discussed at the inquiry.
Note the gas lights.
Source: John Sutton on Geograph. CC-BY_SA

This was the first time I'd ever attended a Public Inquiry and I didn't know what to expect. Wikipedia's article only touches on the kind of fairly routine Inquiry into a planning issue which I attended. As I was only there for a couple of hours (I had limited time available as I was off to Tartu shortly afterwards), I did not have time to learn all the forms of the Inquiry. What follows is quite detailed: it might help someone else wanting to know what the experience is like, or for those not familiar with how the English legal systems work provide a bit more context.

The Inquiry was held in the Council's main offices, which meant signing-in at the desk and receiving a  visitor's badge. Although the inquiry was well signposted both inside and outside Loxley House, I thought the use of a room which prevented walk-in visits was slightly against the spirit of the name 'public'.

In the room, the two sides legal teams were arranged either side of the room, with two tables between the adversaries: one for the chairman (I presume a senior member of the government planning inspectorate) and one for the person giving evidence. The two sides were Nottingham City Council, the planning authority which had designated the Lenton Road footpath, and the Park Estate, the owner of the land where the path runs.  Chairs for attendees (mainly witnesses for the Council) faced the chair.

I snuck in at around 11 am. The hearing was still receiving evidence from Council witnesses including a local representative of the Ramblers, the Civic Society (Tom Huggon) and various people who lived in Lenton and used the path on a regular basis. Paul didn't notice that I'd arrived, and he was looking around anxiously for me. He hadn't seen me because I don't think he'd anticipated that I'd be wearing a suit!

I only had about half-an-hour to get a feel for how the whole thing worked. Like a lot of the English (and Welsh) legal system the inquiry was set up in an adversarial way: a witness made a statement and was then cross-examined by each side. It seemed to me then, and does now, a pretty hopeless way of trying to establish the factual basis of the case.

I read my statement, and then had fairly light cross-examination. I neglected to put OpenStreetMap in context, but that was easily rectified; and most of my personal evidence about the path is probably not relevant because the key period is 20 years from around 1980. I failed to spot a leading question by Paul: another friend who comes to the OSM Nottingham meetings used to live in the Park Estate and used the path to walk to work at Nottingham University.

Fortunately I was the last witness before lunch, so I had a brief chance to chat to a few people I already knew (Robert, Tom) and had a good talk with the guy from the Ramblers. This last chat made the whole exercise worthwhile as making connections with other volunteer organisations was one of the ideas behind the pub-meeting in the first place. I then discovered that I had (quite old) connections with other people in the room.

Paul had disappeared as he had additional evidence to collect before his own session in the afternoon. I bumped into him just as I was leaving outside the building. Just opposite was Nottingham Station. Some time earlier in the year Paul had added a lot of detail on OSM to the station. At the time I thought it was rather absurdly over-the-top. As I we talked I was looking at the station and it suddenly dawned on me why he'd put in so much detail. There had been another inquiry earlier in the year about a right of way (PRoW) across the station footbridge. Paul had needed a detailed map: OSM was to hand. This was an object lesson that it's quite hard to predict what OSM might be used for, and that, in general, it's best to assume other mappers have sensible reasons for mapping what they do. "Live, and let live"

Other uses of OpenStreetMap for Public Planning

I've already mentioned that Paul used OSM to defend the existence of another PRoW in Nottingham, a path which uses the central footbridge over the station. So here's the map to show how much detail he put into the area affected.

Paul Sladen's detailed mapping of Nottingham Station and footpath 28 running over bridge 20B.
View Larger Map

Another example just came up in my twitter stream as I was writing this.

Dunbar station access
Use of OpenStreetMap for influencing Planning decisions: Dunbar, Scotland
I'm sure that there are quite a few other examples out there. If you know of one please add a link in the comments to this blog entry. It would be quite nice to have a collection of examples, to show how OpenStreetMap can be used by local groups to affect and influence the development of their own neighbourhoods.

Chris Hill has added another example in the comments: link.

The Outcome

After all this, I still don't know the outcome of the inquiry! The report was supposed to be ready in 2-3 weeks (Evening Post) or 6 weeks (Robert Howard pers. comm.), but has not appeared at the time of writing.

The one thing I take away from this experience is that mapping the present and history are inextricably bound up with each other. 

References and Further Reading

Beckett, J. (ed.) (1989). Nottingham, a Centennial History.
Green, H., Lenton Priory, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 40 (1936). Online.
Pevsner. N. (1979). The Buildings of England : Nottinghamshire. 2nd Edition. Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Sanderson, G.. (1835).  20 Miles around Mansfield.  Facsimile edition, 2001. Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire County Council Library Services. ISBN 0-902751-43-3.
Mellors, R. (1914). Lenton, then and Now. Online.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, both the story and the involvement of OSM.

    I created a simple map, very quickly, to show how a proposed development in Hull changing Alexandra dock into an offshore wind turbine factory, installation and servicing facility. The blog post [1] shows the before and after map.



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