After a short period trying to record information in text document and by drawing on scanned maps, it became apparent that something better was needed - ideally a Geographical Information System (GIS).
In 2009, after a few quick enquiries, the perceived wisdom was that such software would cost thousands of pounds with a similar budget being needed to buy the digital maps from Ordnance Survey. For most parish councils, these costs would be out of the question... possibly even amounting to more than a year’s precept.
We started looking at Open Source (i.e. free and community supported) software and came to the conclusion that Quantum GIS was the best match to our needs. This still left the problem about the cost of digital maps but, following a series of discussions with Wiltshire Council’s GIS Manager, we agreed that our parish council would sign a subcontract licence to allow us to share their mapping. The intention was always that we would provide information to Wiltshire Council on flooding and drainage via GIS layers.
The learning curve was very steep but Ordnance Survey, in the form of Gillian Horner, came to our assistance and we quickly progressed to the point where GIS became a daily part of our work.
We mapped flood extents, watercourses, culverts, highlighted problems and priorities... then share this as GIS layers with Wiltshire Council, Environment Agency, Highways Agency and others carrying out flooding studies.
Unlike most commercial software packages, the QGIS team seem very responsive to their users. As a consequence, the software had improved considerably over the last two years and is significantly easier to use while also being more capable.
In March 2011 we were told that our subcontract licence was to be terminated and that we had to replace it with a Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) by the end of the month. This we subsequently did and found in the process that we had access to a much wider choice of maps and without increasing the load on the Wiltshire Council GIS team.
Recognising that there are about 10,000 town and parish councils who potentially could wish to use PSMA and GIS, we raised the opportunity with the QGIS developers. As a result, there have been several improvements to QGIS to make use of Ordnance Survey maps easier.
We also persuaded Faunalia, an international GIS consultancy, along with the Royal Agricultural College to co-sponsor a free training day for parish councils and other new GIS/PSMA users. This event was so successful that we are looking at ways to run similar courses.