The Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. Photo: OS CC-BY-NC-2.0

The Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. Photo: OS CC-BY-NC-2.0

The UK Government is providing £80m to help set up a Geospatial Commission, one of whose tasks will be to look at making mapping data available to small businesses.

In a measure announced in last week’s budget, Whitehall said the commission would examine ways of opening up data contained within Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap, the ‘crown jewels’ of the agency’s geographic data.

The Southampton-based government-owned company welcomed the move, saying it would work with the new commission to look at ways of opening up the mapping. The Treasury has pledged £40m a year for the next two years for the project.

The Westminster Government said: “The UK has some of the best geospatial data in the world, and much of it is held by public bodies.

“The potential economic value of this data is huge. To maximise the growth of the digital economy and consolidate the UK’s position as the best place to start and grow a digital business, the Government will establish a new Geospatial Commission to provide strategic oversight to the various public bodies who hold this data.

“To further boost the digital economy, the Government will work with the Ordnance Survey and the new Commission, by May 2018, to establish how to open up freely the OS MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses in particular, under an Open Government Licence or through an alternative mechanism, while maintaining the OS’s strategic strengths.”

MasterMap provides topographical mapping of Great Britain at scales between 1:1,250 and 1:10,000 and includes detail of buildings, antiquities and heritage sites, transport networks and water features.

An urban green spaces layer was made available to public bodies recently, but drew criticism from the Open Spaces Society for not differentiating between public open spaces and those that were only available to paying members of clubs.

MasterMap also has aerial imagery of the whole of Great Britain.

Nigel Clifford, Ordnance Survey chief executive, said: “We will work with government to support the development of the Geospatial Commission and its agenda.

“We’ll also be exploring how to open up our OS MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses in particular, either under an Open Government Licence or via an alternative mechanism.

“Geospatial has a very important role to play in exciting initiatives, many of which were referenced in the Budget, such as the rollout of a 5G network, building smart cities, the national infrastructure and connected and autonomous vehicles, all areas where we are already actively working.

“Above all we will continue to maintain the high-quality data our customers expect and ensure we remain a mapping agency with data and expertise fit for the future.”

Much of the digital mapping used by outdoors enthusiasts, from walkers to mountain bikers, uses OS data.

In 2010, the Ramblers expressed extreme disappointment with the then government’s failure to provide free maps at scales used by walkers in its move to liberalise the national mapping agency.

The expected free provision of Explorer mapping – used by most walkers and outdoor enthusiasts – was replaced by a new VectorMap District service.

The charity said the free datasets did not include digital versions of 1:25,000 Explorer and 1:50,000 Landranger maps.

Ramblers’ everyday walking officer, Des de Moor, said at the time: “We know one of the reasons people don’t walk more is that they don’t know good places to walk, and access to mapping is essential in overcoming that barrier.

“And more people walking more often is something the Government agrees is a good thing, helping tackle obesity and even climate change.”

In 2015 Ordnance Survey was converted from a self-financing trading fund to a government-owned company, prompting speculation the agency was being lined up for privatisation.

  • Grough is a commercial partner of Ordnance Survey in its grough route mapping and route planning service.

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