In a press release earlier this week, it was announced that there will be moves to open up geospatial data produced by the Ordnance Survey:

The Prime Minister and Communities Secretary John Denham will today announce that the public will have more access to Ordnance Survey maps from next year, as part of a Government drive to open up data to improve transparency.

While in the past Ordnance Survey have made limited data available with restrictions on how it can be used (such as via the OpenSpace API)- it looks like the new material will be open as in the Open Knowledge Definition, meaning it can be used for any purpose, including commercial:

Data relating to electoral and local authority boundaries as well as postcode areas would be released for free re-use, including commercially. Mid-scale digital mapping information would also be released in the same way.

At the Open Knowledge Foundation, we believe there are a plethora of social and economic benefits to making data open. In a similar vein, the release says:

Making public data available also enables people to reuse it in different and more imaginative ways than may have originally been intended. Estimates suggest that this could generate as much as a billion pounds for the UK economy.

For example developers might use this information alongside other Government data about transport, health or education, for services that generate economic and social value.

Openness of data is as important for local government as it is for national government – making people more connected to their community and giving them the tools to demand action on issues that matter. Releasing council records in re-usable form could mean that citizens can find out everything from the council accounts to the number of streetlights and community wardens, to when the rubbish is collected and the hedges trimmed.

The news was also reported by the BBC and the Guardian:

The relevant Ordnance Survey data is set to be released in April 2010. Very exciting news!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at and he tweets at @jwyg.

2 thoughts on “Ordnance Survey to open up UK geospatial data”

  1. I am unclear why 4 months of consultation is needed on this.

    It seems clear that this was not part of the OS strategy, hence the need for the Cabinet Office’s involvement. Can the OS overrule the Cabinet Office and the PM?

    Is the period to agree license terms (personally I think that is a simple matter of choosing from one of a very small number of options of the sort you have already created).

    Is it about giving the industry some time to adapt or is it to agree how the data is maintained without an income stream – I hope they have already sorted that one? or is it about allowing for the possibility that it doesn’t happen at all?

    The other question I have is which actual datasets are they talking about. For boundaries it seems clear that they are talking about BoundaryLine (

    What about the ‘mid-level mapping’? Are they talking about Meridian2 ( which is not too useful these days or ITN ( which is very detailed and useful?

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