Why Waikato District Council published their District Plan data

Waikato District Council has published the data associated with their District Plan under an open licence.

Waikato District Council (WDC) is a local government agency that covers the northern Waikato region of New Zealand, with headquarters in the town of Ngaruawahia.

In 2017, the Council launched the Waikato District Council Data Service on the Koordinates platform— initially releasing over 100 geospatial data layers associated with their District Plan.

Geospatial data and the District Plan

The initial motivation for Waikato District Council to publish their geospatial data was an upcoming review of their District Plan.

Anton Marais is the council's GIS Lead. With the other members of the council’s GIS team, Anton is responsible for managing and distributing the data underlying the District Plan.

Given the importance of the dataset and the number of requests they’d expect to process, the council needed an easy — and ideally self-service — way to distribute the data to stakeholders.

As Anton explains, “The District Plan is a high-demand dataset. It’s a very critical piece of information that relates to land use and is required by a large number of organisations.

“We needed to give various consultants and stakeholders access to the data. This allowed them to undertake studies on behalf of council, or to check and validate the information that we hold on behalf of other entities — like gas pipelines, state highways, electrical transmissions lines, etc.

“This was crucial, because this gets written into the Plan, and then that impacts real-world projects. We need it to be as accurate as possible, because it’s very difficult to change once it’s in the District Plan.”

Automating data distribution

To facilitate this review process, the council piloted the Waikato District Council Data Service on the Koordinates platform.

Why did they chose Koordinates? Anton explains that Koordinates had the capacity to automate many of the time-consuming processes around data publication and distribution.

“What Koordinates has offered us is the ability to publish data, so that we don’t have to spend time and resource compiling it and setting it up. This means we can get on with other things relating to the District Plan. It’s been a big win for us.”

Anton emphasises the importance of automating as much as they can. “In terms of requirements, one of our first was having a system that we didn’t have to manually intervene in constantly.”

Anton appreciated the ability of their Data Service to automatically scan and import data from their data sources. “We wanted to be able to set up the web services and have the Data Service grab the data. An offsite service that grabbed the updated data periodically was a really good solution. We really wanted the Data Service to be ticking along in the background.”

Another feature Anton sought was user management, especially authentication and permissions. “We didn’t want to have to deal with that side of the system — so a single-sign-on like Koordinates ID was a great solution, and reduced the overhead cost for us.

“Koordinates ID is also convenient for our customers. We don’t want customers of council to have to log-in to our systems using multiple identities, so it’s great that our Data Service will be using what LINZ and other NZ government agencies are using. It’s handled really well by Koordinates — and it works really well for our users.”

One point of truth

Ultimately, Anton says, their data publishing has been motivated by a desire to make it easier for a range of customers to access Council data. One aspect of this was ensuring that everyone was accessing the same authoritative layers. “The data service becomes a single point of truth for everyone involved in the District Plan review. And, after the review is finished, it will be the source of truth for the final dataset.”

This is especially important due to the range of professionals accessing District Plan data during the review process. “Our planners will consult specialists — from geology, ecology, residential growth, and more — and they’ll also commission people to do reports. And these people need to get their hands on data. And then a lot of organisations that need land designated for their use — schools, roads, etc — these organisations need to validate and check that we have the correct data.

“So we go back and forth with these groups. And once we get to the point of drawing lines, then the data can be used for consultation with the wider public. Once it goes to the public, it’s critical that we’ve made the data is accurate and correct, because decisions across the district — big and small — depend on that data.”

Anton explains that their Koordinates Data Service also automates some of the more complex work around translation and reprojection — which makes it easier for their end users to get Council data into their applications. 

“The big advantage of the way Koordinates is set up is that it automates some of the tricky work around shifting file formats and projections. It makes it easy for the end user to get what they’re looking for, in the specifications they need.”

Data licensing

Anton explains the process the team went through in determining which data licence to apply. “Initially we viewed the District Plan data as being governed by a strict legislative process, therefore we wanted to apply the 'NoDerivatives' Creative Commons Licence. We intended that a third party should not be able to alter the structure of the data in any way. 

"Upon further advice and a thorough examination of our intentions we determined that in reality the application of the CC BY would sufficiently meet the objectives of making the data open and accessible in the first place.

"The expert advice and knowledge from the Koordinates Team were really helpful in going through this process”

The benefits of open data publication

As Anton explains, there are many benefits to council’s publishing their geospatial data. “Councils in general hold a lot of data. The data that they produce is frequently required by people working alongside or partnering with the councils, or people who just need information for their projects.”

With council data in demand, council staff have in the past spent several hours a week processing data requests. "The top request would probably be underground pipe networks. Second to that would be the District Plan. Third would be property information. Although in the past aerial imagery was taking up a lot of our time and resources, the LINZ data service has really help us a lot.”

Anton says it’s still early days in the council’s open data journey, but that he could see the potential to release other datasets in the future. “It’s a big area we’re working in, and there’s a lot of data we collect that we don’t find especially valuable, but others would. We almost take it for granted. For us, there’s a big advantage of having users go to their area of interest, get what they need, and then go to work on their projects — without Council staff having to manually process their requests.”

Anton encourages more councils across New Zealand publishing their data. As he explains, “All councils hold an asset register, with data stored in a number of asset databases. Publishing that data — connected across councils across the entire country, with some level of standardisation to make it easy for the end user — would be hugely valuable. I look forward to seeing more councils publish their data.”