Introducing Community Map Scotland: a collaborative mapping project to empower Community Councils

Chris Mewse portrait

Chris Mewse, Managing Director at Geoxphere, writes about a new initiative between Geoxphere, the Improvement Service and Planning Aid Scotland (PAS) to empower Community Councils in the planning process.

Community Map Scotland is a project between Geoxphere, the Improvement Service and PAS to kick-start mapping projects in Scotland and give Community Councils the ability to have their say on the future of planning policy and how their local area is shaped. The initial aim of the project is to provide services from all three organisations to provide Community Councils with the tools to start working on Local Place Plans.

Geoxphere is a software company specialising in digital mapping, while the Improvement Service have huge amounts of data from local authorities, and PAS have skills in providing advice and training around planning and social issues. Combining these three areas of expertise gives Community Councils a fantastic free resource to begin using maps to improve their local area.

The team at Geoxphere have a great deal of experience in providing mapping software to town, parish and community councils in England and Wales. There are 10,000 councils at this level of government and they are challenged with providing local services with very low levels of funding, training and technology compared to their higher-tier authorities, yet they are the ones providing the key services that local residents need.

We’ve worked over the last 15 years to provide them with access to a low-cost software called Parish Online that helps them visualise and understand their area. It includes mapping data on land ownership, flood risk, planning constraints, demographic statistics and many other geographical aspects, allowing them to carry out their work more efficiently and in a more informed way. We’ve seen how tooling up parish councils has enabled greater data sharing and collaboration, especially as those running the parish council have better local knowledge of their area. Harnessing this knowledge is key to making government more efficient, responsive and joined-up.

It’s a great privilege to start working with Improvement Service and PAS to bring this proven concept into Scotland. We’ve taken our tried-and-tested software and adapted it for Scottish communities so they can also have the tools, data and advice that will empower them to engage on equal terms with their overarching local authority. There are 1,374 Community Councils in Scotland and for this initial launch we’re giving our software away completely free to all of them to gauge interest and see how the software is received. As a self-confessed map geek, I know how useful high-quality mapping can be, so I can easily see communities using it for Local Place Plans, climate planning, emergency resilience plans, as well as focusing on placing services where vulnerable residents really need them.

I appreciate that this is going to be a big challenge as Community Councils currently have less funding than their counterparts in England and Wales. Conversations on the differences and benefits of the two different models of funding is something we hope the project kick-starts.

For the time-being, even without funding, we’re approaching this with a “build it and they will come” attitude. That appears to be working so far as we’ve had almost 100 Community Councils sign up to the mapping software in the last few weeks. It’s a small start, but a start nonetheless. I’m excited to see how the project progresses, which organisations come out to support it, and how they can use the power of digital mapping to improve the places people live and work.

Community Councils can sign up to the software free for 1 year at There is also a Community Map Scotland network on the Knowledge Hub.  This is a dedicated space for Community Councils to share best practice and get help with questions about the software, and also to engage with the PAS team to access training that can help them progress their projects of interest. Find out more about how to get started with the Community Map Scotland software here.