INSPIRE years seem to be much shorter than normal human years, well at least that is how it feels having been Northern Ireland’s INSPIRE co-ordinator for the last 5 years. With the next deadline of the EU INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community) Directive nearly upon us (3rd December 2013), it is hard to believe that it’s four years since Northern Ireland transposed the Directive in 2009 under a UK umbrella. Land & Property Services (LPS) are responsible for co-ordinating the implementation of the Directive in Northern Ireland in conjunction with colleagues in Defra; so what have we been doing for the last 4 years?
We have not been idle…..the LPS INSPIRE team have spent the last number of years engaging with data providers in Northern Ireland. As the Northern Ireland public sector is relatively small, we have the advantage of being able to work directly with key people within the relevant organisations. For Annex III publishers, we started with a top down approach by identifying key departments and organisations who may be holders of data under Annex III. The Chief Executives were then lured with bacon butties to breakfast briefings where they were given a high level overview of INSPIRE and what their requirements were. The CEO’s were tasked with nominating a representative to sit on a technical Annex III group to learn in more detail about their requirements. A similar approach was taken with Local Authorities which was extremely successful – each Chief Executive was asked to nominate a representative who would coordinate INSPIRE activities across their organisation.
In tandem with engaging with data providers we designed and procured a centralised technical solution for Northern Ireland to meet the INSPIRE requirements – Spatial NI™.
Spatial NI built on ArcGIS Server technology provides a complete solution for INSPIRE with a metadata tool, view and download services all of which meet the INSPIRE specifications. It also has a licensing component and a transformation tool which we have already tested by transforming some of our own Annex I datasets for example administrative boundaries along with relevant data from other providers such as protected sites. Spatial NI also has an interactive map viewer with integrated tools such as an address finder and spatial query tools. Spatial NI is linked to data.gov.uk where Northern Ireland records can also be discovered. Future plans for Spatial NI include the roll out of the facility for data publishers to be able to update their own data through a dedicated server connected to the portal.
Most of the barriers to uptake that we have met have been the result of a lack of understanding of the INSPIRE technical requirements. Our facilitation of technical meetings to explain requirements in simple terms and the holding of metadata workshops greatly assisted in overcoming this.
The legislative aspect of INSPIRE has been hugely beneficial as many of the objectives of the Northern Ireland Geographical Information Strategy are similar to the INSPIRE principles in collecting data once to common standards and ensuring its reuse. It is also becoming increasingly recognised that better location information leads to better decision making.
We have noticed a definite snowball effect that when people can find information on Spatial NI then they want their data to be included on it. Having access to datasets has already proved extremely useful for example during the spring blizzard in Northern Ireland in March 2013 when Spatial NI, and many of the datasets collected for INSPIRE were used to support the civil contingency response.
I am certain that INSPIRE will deliver benefits in the long term and will ultimately drive interoperability of data across the Northern Ireland Civil Service and crucially at a cross border level. INSPIRE deadlines stretch on for a further 5 and a half more years during which time we have to ensure that datasets are transformed according to Europe’s specifications and are fully interoperable at a cross border level. Please pass me the anti-ageing cream as I know from experience that those INSPIRE years will pass in an instant…..