Barriers to Open Availability of Information? IW Planning Committee Audio Recordings

Chatting to Simon Perry of the Ventnor Blog over a pint at the Yarbridge Inn last week, he mentioned that recording of the Isle of Wight Council Planning Committee were available on the Isle of Wight Council website, albeit in an obfuscated and hard to find way (you know the sort of thing: a full stop or 1×1.gif is used as the link text and the anchor has {text-decoration: none};-).

So I thought it might be interesting to see how easy it would be to plot the recordings on a map, “locating” the recording of each application at the place where the planned changes would actually take place. The idea being, of course, that a map based index makes it easier to find information about planning applications in your own locale.

The recipe I had in mind was something like the following:

– scrape a list of recordings, along with the location each one referred to, and make it available as JSON or RSS feed;
– take the feed, geocode it as required, and hook it into a “geopodcast” map, (that is, a pre-existing application that would take a geocoded podcast feed and display it on a map, letting you click on a marker and play the audio file located at that point).

Easy, right? A half hour job, I thought…

Hmmm…maybe not:

– the only place I could find links to the audio files were in the minutes of the relevant committee meeting, minutes that are only published as PDF documents; and PDF scraping is not something I know how to do (yet…?!);
– a quick search around turned up no obvious geopodcast plotting maps.

(Maybe the 4ip funded AudioBoo project, which lets users users to record and share audio from their mobile phones, will also spin off an easy to use “geopodcast map plotter”…? (Let’s also hope AudioBoo gets more traction than audiotagger did!))

So here’s what I ended up doing instead for a proof of concept. Firstly, from the Planning Committee webpage, I opened one of the minutes PDFs, and cut and pasted the details of a planning decision into a Yahoo pipe to create a test feed. (The title of the application links to the audio recording of it’s consideration – so you can check the veracity of the minutes if you want to…)

Here’s the pipe:

A couple of things to note:
– the planning committee minutes don’t make it easy to get a geocoded position for the application; I ended up using the Post Office postcode finder to get a postcode from the address stated in the application, so that I could get a reasonable fix on the location with the (rather crappy) Yahoo pipes geocoder block.

– the URl of the audio files are very long and truly horrible; when I was testing embed codes for various media players, they would occasionally choke on the URI (possibly because I wasn’t escaping or encoding it when I should have been?); anyway, a simple fix was to just get a minified version of the URI and pass that to the audio player (the block is one I found that will minify a supplied URI).

So that’s the pipe.

For the map, I pulled out the code from my (now broken…) geotwitterous app, and added the ability to display an embedded audio player in marker pop-up box:

Here’s the demo: GeoAudio demo: IW planning applications.

For the future? An obvious next step would be to just cut details from planning committee minutes and paste them into a Google spreadsheet, then take a CSV output into a pipe, geocode it, and pass it into the map. But that’s for another day…

In the longer term, pulling together all the relevant documents associated with a planning application (maybe using the Plannig Alerts API?) into a single interface would be handy. (I’d also love to see kids in local schools and the local college doing some practical ICT/DT CAD work generating 3D Sketch-up versions of planning applications so they can be viewed in Google Earth;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

7 thoughts on “Barriers to Open Availability of Information? IW Planning Committee Audio Recordings”

  1. A true labour of love. That’s some crazy Yahoo pipe. But yes, Audio will allow exactly for this kind of usage and we’ll publish a full API for you to use to your hearts content.

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