What does "old school" mean? I guess something along the lines that I qualified a long while ago, in fact over 30 years ago. I started my career with Tarmac at an office in Matlock. The estates department was accomodated in a rather fine former residential property  and included a number of surveyors (including Messrs Dobbs, Lofthouse, Lindley amonst others), geologists and a drawing office all under the wing on John Sharpe. Pre the computer age it was very much pen and paper but we did have very comprehensive records and information. The drawing office produced the required plans and we had available hard copy "terriers". Simple and yes basic but it worked.

When I talk about "terriers" many people haven't heard of this in the context of property. Wikipedia defines it as;

A land terrier is a record system for an institution's land and property holdings. It differs from a land registry in that it is maintained for the organisation's own needs and may not be publicly accessible.

Typically, it consists of written records related to a map. Modern practice involves the use of Geographic Information Systems.

In France the term "terrier" refers to feudal records associated with the Ancien Régime.

Moving on a few years I joined English China Clays. Once again another company who had an established Estates Department including the all important support team. The "Terrier" was core to the Departments work and the Estate Manager, John Clatworhy, made it quite clear that it was imperative that it was kept upto date. We had the luxury of having Derrick who helped maintain the property records. There were A0 plan chests full of OS 1:2500 sheets all carefully marked up and colour washed indentify the property records. I therefore had a good grounding on the importance of property terriers.

Jump forward another 10 years at Aggregate Industries and I migrated that hard copy system into an computerised database all integrated with GIS. Every property in the portfolio (over 300) had all the relevant property records recorded and all available on line. To achieve this it was quite an undertaking and one that cost about £125,000. I am pretty confident that was the best property system in the construction materials sector. Chris Dobbs at Tarmac was a few years ahead of me in creating a similar system and probably he was a few years too early. At the time the Tarmac system was being implemented GIS technology was still very much a beast that required very high specification IT equipment and more importantly a robust and fast network. Chris would often recount stories of trying to access data at Colchester from the servers at Ettingshall and the result was the weighbridges in the South East would all grind to a halt.

Obtaining the funding for that computerised system was itself a challenge. Where service departments are seen simply as a cost spending 6 figures on a computer to make plans was seen by some as completely unnecessary. A 4/5 year payback was seen as excessive compared with other investments. As it happended the payback was a few months but that is for another day.

So moving to my experiences over the past few years the concern I have is that in many cases I am finding that land owners and in particular companies no longer appear to maintain good property records. By good I mean accurate, accessible and current including both data and plans. I acknowledge that the records and information may be held by the land owner/company but not in a format that can be easily accessed. In the current age of technology it seems perverse that it can take a few days to accumulinate the data and information. On occassions the quailty of the data and information provided is less that satisfactory. That then leads to the distribution of data and information by the usual means, email. In most instances the data and plans held needs to be accessed by a number of people in the organisation. Distributed information as an attachement to an email which is then printed and put in a folder (or not) is a further example of the inefficent use of resources. A good example here is maintaining regulatory records at site offices. Basic documents such as planning permissions, air permits and water discharge licences should all be at hand, in many cases they aren't.

I have tried to understand the underyling reason why we have seen this trend. I think a lot does stem from the onset of the 2007/8 recession when departments were severely cut back and head counts never fully recovered. Maybe the current "Managers" of larger portfolios don't see the need, maybe it is simply down to cost. There are some excellent solutions available and in every case I would advocate a plan/map based GIS system. Back to surveyors liking maps. However it shouldn't stop with property. Whether you are dealing with a building, plant and equipment, site infrastructure (eg power cables, drains, water pipes etc etc), mobile plant, oil tanks or a first aid station it is located somewhere on the property and should be recorded. It will save time, money, effort and make your organisation more efficient.

Afterall - Everything is Somewhere..............

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