Nearly 900 years after William the Conqueror drew up a detailed land register of his newly won kingdom, the British government is to compile a new Domesday Book.
William ordered a Domesday Book in 1086 to prevent misuse of land by nobles. The two-volume register, which is still in existence, received its menacing name because the King was determined that no baron or other landowner should escape the attention of the inquiry.
The new Domesday Book will be drawn up with the object of making the best use of land in modern Britain. The Department of the Environment needs a register to help settle arguments between property developers and local authorities about how much land is available for building, and where it is.
A major problem in Britain, especially in crowded southeast England, is pressure on so-called green belts around cities - spaces of fields and trees declared off-limits to wholesale building.
Conservationists argue there would be less demand for encroachment on green belts if inner-city land available for development was used. Cities like London, Manchester, and Liverpool have huge areas that are not being used. The study will try to pinpoint such areas.
Another problem is enroachment on farmland by housing. This is happening in many areas without the Department of the Environment having a clear picture of the problem nationwide.
The Domesday Book will be drawn from information in the Ordnance Survey, which compiles maps of Britain. The study will deal with one part of the country at a time, finally producing a reasonably complete picture.
William the Conqueror's Domesday Book was completed in just over a year. The modern version will be a continuous exercise, with built-in updating procedures.
In some ways the decision to produce a new Domesday Book represents backtracking by Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin. Last year he issued guidance circulars to local authorities, suggesting ways the green belts could be modified to allow more housing construction. There was uproar in the House of Commons and a a parliamentary committee was formed to study the problem.
Mr. Jenkin's Domesday Book is partly an attempt to preempt crticism by that committee, whose report is to be published soon.