Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Paying twice for data? Through your council, you might be paying EIGHT times

This morning an interesting email dropped into the Guardian’s inbox. It’s quoted here in full with the permission of the author (see end).

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I look after all the maps for the council where I work and yes, even government departments and councils etc have to pay for Ordnance Survey data.

Local government has interesting scenarios where the taxpayer will pay three times or more for Ordnance Survey Data. One of the most interesting scenarios is Planning Applications.

  • 1st payment to OS: if a member of the public wants to submit a Planning Application they can buy a site plan map, usually from the council (cost of about £25 for an 4 x A4 sheets) or other OS licenced data reseller.
  • 2nd Payment to OS: the Planning Authority (local council) also have to buy their map base from Ordnance Survey every year. Part of what is called the Mapping Services Agreement (MSA) [and a whole other debate hangs around the MSA – CA].
  • 3rd Payment to OS: the member of the public also pays for Ordnance Survey data as part of their normal taxes.
  • There is also a 4th Payment (which is the biggest scandal) that goes to Ordnance Survey and the Post Office, to use our council-created and council-maintained Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG) or local address database. Even though all the councils create and maintain their own address gazetteer, we have to pay the OS and Post Office for the privilege of using that address data.

    The OS says that it owns the copyright of the position of the address, and the Post Office says it own the copyright of the address (because it adds the postcode). Councils therefore have to pay a per-click cost to OS and Post Office to use the council-created addresses on our own website address lookup facilities.

    The irony about all this is that the local council creates the address in the first place (Street Naming and Numbering sections) and gives (for FREE) this information (including site plan) to the Post Office and Ordnance Survey – so they are in essence charging the local council for its own information. Therefore the public have to pay the Council to create the address (Street Naming and Numbering dept) and then pay again to the OS and the Post Office for the right [for the council] to use it.

    Now, if the council wants to use Addresses (LLPG) created by a neighbouring council(s) (eg for cross-council working/Partnership working etc) the cost goes up even more. The tax payer has to pay the council to create the address data (Street Naming and Numbering dept), OS and Post Office to use the address, and again if used on a web address search facility.

    Then a neighbouring council will have to pay extra money to the OS and Post Office to use the same address (if it’s not in its postcode area) and finally pay again to use the address in a address search facility on its website.

    In total the tax payer could pay up to five times for the one address that the council gives to the OS and Post Office for FREE.

    Finally, taxpayers putting in a planning application online for one building/address using OS data could be paying a total of up to eight times for that one address/building data. Now that is scandalous.

    Chris Hancox, GIS Officer, at a council in the Anglian region
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    [Editor’s note: some deletions made at writer’s request]

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