Neil Ackroyd: 'another step on open-space journey' . Photo: OS

Neil Ackroyd: 'another step on open-space journey' . Photo: OS

The Westminster Government has announced a limited freeing of part of Ordnance Survey’s extensive database covering the whole of Great Britain.

Land-ownership boundaries and linked identifying data in OS’s MasterMap will be available without charge but free access to other information, including urban paths, green spaces, highways and water networks will be limited and via OS’s own application programming interface.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington revealed the plans, which will be delivered under the auspices of the new Geospatial Commission.

The Association for Geographic Information, which represents companies and organisations dealing in geospatial data in part welcomed the move, but the Open Data Institute said the freeing of data did not go far enough.

The freed data is likely to be useful to developers looking for land for future projects but companies and innovators looking to use OS data for outdoor pursuits will find little in today’s announcement to help their cause.

Neil Ackroyd, interim chief executive of Ordnance Survey, said: “Ordnance Survey holds the most accurate and comprehensive set of location data for Great Britain, making public sector services work more efficiently and helping to build innovative businesses across every sector of the economy.

“Since its launch in 2001, OS MasterMap has been one of the most comprehensive and detailed geospatial reference datasets in the world.

“This latest development is another step on Ordnance Survey’s open-data journey. We’re looking forward to supporting the Geospatial Commission in making this data more accessible and more widely used.”

Ordnance Survey said the changes will take place over the next two years, but has not put a figure on the limits for use of the API. It added: “Ordnance Survey will continue to produce its paper maps and maintain both the 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale data. These datasets are not included in the open data announcement.”

The Chancellor Philip Hammond said in last autumn’s budget he was making £40m available for two years to the new commission and expected an announcement on freeing data by May this year.

The Government said the freeing of the MasterMap data announced by Mr Lidington would boost the economy by £130m a year.

The AGI said: “We welcome the news that a greater number of UK organisations will have more affordable access to elements of OS MasterMap.

“In the process of enabling wider access to elements of OS MasterMap, work may begin on overcoming the barriers to deriving maximum value from our nation’s rich geospatial data resources.”

But it also acknowledged it was waiting for more information on how more open data would be released. It said: “We look forward to hearing details of future developments in Ordnance Survey’s open data journey.

“We are also confident that our community will be eager to hear more details – and to contribute its thoughts and ideas – about ways in which it hopes the release of this information can add value to the UK economy.

“We look forward to more news from the Geospatial Commission, particularly with regard to the next steps on our journey towards more open geospatial data infrastructure for the UK, and on our members’ behalves we will continue seeking out opportunities for engagement that benefit us all.”

The Open Data Institute, which was founded by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and artificial-intelligence expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt and campaigns for innovative use of open data, said today’s announcement was a step forward, but there was a lot more to do.

It said address- and road-identifiers were being opened up and new guidance given on the use of derived data, ‘a pesky legal grey area that affects lots of possible uses.’

But, it said: “Other topographical features will also not be opened. This includes building heights, which are also useful for planning; data about green spaces, which enables physical activity; details about road layouts, access points and our path network, useful for routing; and data about waterways, useful for understanding flooding.

“For now, these will be made available through a freemium-style API. This will let users who only need small amounts of data to access it for free, on demand. It does not help those who need larger volumes or who want flexibility in what they do with the derived data they create.

“So this step will satisfy some businesses and use cases, but won’t support everything that people have been clamouring for many years, or the change that is necessary if the UK is to lead on building 21st century services, powered by emerging technologies, such as driverless cars, drones and artificial intelligence.

“We think the best model is one where all of Ordnance Survey’s data is made open. We think OS should offer paid-for service-level agreements to users like large companies who need guaranteed access or availability.

“We think OS and others should compete fairly to provide the best APIs, support, and other services over this public data.”

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

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