Free Our Data: the blog

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


Environment Agency yanks flood data from OnOneMap site

We’ve written in the past about OnOneMap], which took the interesting step of taking the mobile phone mast data from Ofcom and making it available on its property/rental search site.

But recently it did something much more interesting – and, given the weather, useful. At the start of June it added the Environment Agency’s flood risk data to its Google Maps implementation.

The Environment Agency’s flood data is, to be honest, not as useful as it could be. You can do a postcode search, but when you then look at it, it is difficult to work out quite what’s at risk.

An article in today’s Guardian – Agency’s flood maps fail to hold water – makes this point more elegantly. It appeared in the Money section of the paper.

As the article points out,

users will find the site lacks crucial details. For example, it fails to show the location of a home in relation to the area at risk of flooding.

OnOneMap managed to grab the Environment Agency data (for England and Wales; we’re checking on Scotland) and added it as a layer to its Google Maps.

The the Environment Agency got in touch: the data, it asserted, was its copyright, and it wasn’t happy about it being used in this way – even though OnOneMap is not (at present) a for-profit site. It asserted its ownership of database copyright in the data, which is hard to rebut, and threatened to take OnOneMap to court.

(As I write this, the news is on, saying that the estimated costs of the flooding this month are £1 billion.)

Without the resources to fight such a battle, OnOneMap removed the data – but not without making a note to that effect on its blog:

The Environment Agency claims they have copyright over the information, and despite the fact that tax-payers’ money has paid for it to be collected in the first place, apparently the tax-payer cannot benefit from innovations like our housing and flood map combination.

The comments on the post are quite illuminating, for example:

This is absolutely outrageous given our tax money has paid for this. Surely it is up to the government agencies to ensure this information is widespread, ESPECIALLY during this time period when we are being inundated with water!!

and

Ridiculous, especially right now, that people need to find out if their home is at risk of flooding… greedy buggers, the Environment Agency… I loved the feature on ononemap.com, shame you had to withdraw it

Interestingly, there is a site which does have very detailed data – which was gathered by the Norwich Union – is whatsmyfloodrisk.co.uk: you have to pay for the data (unsurprising, since it cost Norwich Union something like £5m to gather it..). But wouldn’t it be better if the Environment Agency data was available to all of us, free, without having to go to its site?

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