Free Our Data: the blog

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

Environment Agency gives its reasons for stopping flood data being used

Today’s Guardian Technology includes “Rising tide of frustration at flood maps’ restrictions“, following on from the Environment Agency (for England and Wales) decision to forbid OnOneMap republishing a scraped version of its flood map data.. which is the sort of data that one would like to have at the moment when considering where to buy or rent next.

Interestingly, OnOneMap had also – it tells us – scraped the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s data for maps (which doesn’t use the same criteria as the E&W one; some joined-up thinking needed?) but hadn’t started using it.

So why is the flood map data not available beyond the EA site? The EA says it is – but at a price. “The charge for commercial use of the whole Flood Map dataset for England and Wales starts at £4,000 per year. We will charge a royalty fee on those companies that sell the information on,” the agency said.

“More than 50 commercial companies are licensed to use the flood map and/or our other flood risk data. Hundreds more commercial licences are issued for use of flood risk data for local studies. However, some do not pay because they are statutory customers, such as gas and electricity companies and utilities.” The data has been available since 2001.

Philip Sheldrake, managing director of the OnOneMap site, thinks it’s daft.

One irony Sheldrake points out is that the SEPA data is held in a different format – meaning that OnOneMap was the first service that pulled all this information together in one place (although it had not started offering the Scottish flood data when the EA complained).

“We have not applied for a licence [from the EA] as we believe the data should be in the public domain and moreover they have advised us that their licence terms still would not permit us to provide the data to the public via a website!” Sheldrake says.

Flood data? Although it could be done with an XML feed for all (guaranteeing it would be up to date) and thus displayed on any map outlay people wanted, we’re stuck – at present – with one pasted on Ordnance Survey bitmaps. Is this really the best we can do?

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