Free Our Data: the blog

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

Archive for January, 2008

OS makes OpenSpace open to all. However..

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Having had a closed “alpha” session of its OpenSpace mapping API (application programming interface), Ordnance Survey is now opening it up to everyone – well, everyone who’s not going to use it commercially.

From today, anyone who registers at the OS OpenSpace website can access up to 30,000 “tiles” or extracts of data and up to 1,000 placename lookups a day. Users can add markers, lines and polygons on top of Ordnance Survey mapping, search for place names with a gazetteer and display other location data from elsewhere on the Web.

The platform is a JavaScript API that uses “slippy map” technology, so users can grab and move images in different directions. As well as the API itself, OS OpenSpace will include a community website so developers can discuss, review and collaborate on projects.

You can register as an OpenSpace developer at

The problem is of course that those 1,000 placename lookups and 30,000 tiles will get used up pretty quickly for any successful site. The irony is that any site where OpenSpace has a big impact won’t be able to use it as the success grows – as was pointed out previosuly.

Also: no ads (so what about Google’s AdSense or Yahoo’s ad network?). And of course the copyright in any product you create remains partly (perhaps wholly..) with OS.

So far and yet so.. not far.

New advisers

Thursday, January 31st, 2008


The Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information has made some interesting new appointments. Here’s today’s press release:


Thursday 31 January 2008 15:01
Ministry of Justice (National)

Appointment of eight new members to Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information

Appointment of eight new members to Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information Minister of State for Justice, Michael Wills, today announced the appointment of eight new members to the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information.

The Minister of State for Justice, Ministry of Justice (Michael Wills) said: “The new members of APPSI bring with them a wealth of experience and real passion for the subject and I am confident they will be able to play a major role in informing our information policy approach.

I would also like to thank the outgoing members who have played an active role particularly in the successful UK implementation of the EU Directive on Re-use of Public Sector Information.”

Professor Richard Susskind, Chair of APPSI, said:

“I am delighted to welcome our new members to APPSI. They are a remarkably expert and experienced group and they will help us greatly in fulfilling our role as the main advisers to Ministers on the re-use of public sector information. Now is an especially challenging and important time for the UK’s information industries and for PSI managers, and I intend that our strengthened team at APPSI will continue to encourage the public and private sectors to realise the value of PSI”.

The eight new members, who are appointed initially for three years, are:

Neil Ackroyd

Neil Ackroyd is the Executive Director responsible for Data Collection and Management at the Ordnance Survey. Prior to joining the public sector he was employed by the GPS & Location Based Services company Trimble. He is the author of many papers. He is appointed as a Representative Member for trading funds.

Christopher Corbin

Christopher Corbin has 47 years experience working in the private, public and self employed sectors. He has an Information, Communication and Technology background. He is currently completing an assignment as an Analyst within the European Commission ePSIplus Thematic Network that supports the implementation of the European Directive on Public Sector Information Re-use. He is appointed as an expert member on Geospatial Information.


Dr Eric Davies is currently Consulting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Information Science at Loughborough University. His experience of professional library practice includes over 25 years in academic library management. His main interests lie in statistics and performance assessment. He is appointed as a Representative Member for the Library and University community.

John Gray

John Gray has enjoyed lengthy periods of employment in both the Public and Private sectors of the UK economy. He currently divides his interests between a mix of executive and non-executive Board appointments with business concerns and trade associations that enjoy an active interface in the re-use of public sector information. He is appointed as an Expert Member to cover Digital Content.

Hilary Newiss

Hilary Newiss was a partner and Head of Intellectual Property at a city firm of solicitors. Since leaving the city she has concentrated on public service and policy in the Intellectual Property, health/science and technology fields. She has served on the Human Genetics Commissions for 6 years and the Intellectual Property Advisory Committee. She is appointed as an Expert Member to cover Intellectual Property issues.

Michael Nicholson

Michael Nicholson is Managing Director of Intelligent Addressing Ltd, which initially helped develop a local authority-led dataset called the National Land & Property Gazetteer. He is currently Chair of the Locus Association, a body of private sector companies concerned by the re-use of PSI. He is appointed as an Expert Member to cover Geospatial Information

Shane O’Neill

Shane O’Neill is Commercial Director of the BMJ Group, a worldwide leader in healthcare information, and founder of a leading Public Sector Information strategic consultancy business (Shane O’Neill Associates). His career has focussed on information publishing. Shane has also been consulted by and worked on behalf of several Government organisations to help them implement their PSI policies and procedures. He is appointed as an Expert Member to cover Digital Content.

Phillip Webb

Phillip Webb was Chief Executive of the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) from 2001 until his retirement in March 2007. During a life long career in ICT he has acquired a wealth of high-level experience in information management within academia and government research organisations. He is appointed as an expert Member to cover Information Communications Technology.

Notes to Editors

1. APPSI is an independent non-departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice, set up in 2001. It has responsibility for advising Ministers about opportunities for greater re-use of public sector information. It also advises the Director of the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) about changes and opportunities in the information industry. Under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, APPSI has a role in reviewing complaints. More information on the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information is available from its web site,

2. The appointments were made in accordance with the Code of Practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

3. The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) is at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging re-use of public sector information at

4. Ministry of Justice, Press Office, Constitution Desk.

Client ref 153/08

GNN ref 156994P

GreenAmps fights OS and HMSO over use of map data

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

More from The Guardian: GreenAmps, a renewable energy company, has been taken to court by Ordnance Survey and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office over its use of OS data sourced from an academic licence for making applications to councils.

The core of the argument was that GreenAmps said that using OS data was imperative for making its applications – but that it is a monopoly supplier, and that that couldn’t be right.

[Nick] Brown [chief executive of GreenAmps] says that OS maps are in practice an indispensible component of planning applications for wind turbines. He admits obtaining sets of mapping data “from academic sources” and using them to develop a software tool for streamlining planning applications, initially just for his company’s use. “Early on, though, we decided that this was too important to stay in house.” He says that the government, in the shape of the Department of Trade and Industry, asked him to make the software available to “all and sundry”.

OS and HMSO argued that the data is Crown copyright and so could be sold and priced as they see fit.

In 2006, Brown says, he tried to negotiate a non commercial licence for the data. OS said that, as a commercial firm, Green Amps should pay a commercial licence fee, of £16,000. Last year, OS and HMSO, the formal holder of copyright, took action in the High Court.

Brown says the court action was out of proportion to the size of loss faced by OS; for its part, OS says it has a duty to safeguard the public purse.

OS said that it went to

“a great deal of effort to offer [Brown] a licensing situation that would work for him,” including its developer programme for start-ups. “He simply refused all suggestions.”

But as the article points out, while we can’t condone the theft of (intellectual) property, the case shows an interesting policy issue:

This is the question of whether the practice of managing government information through trading funds like Ordnance Survey is compatible with European regulations requiring essential public information to be made freely available.

Brown says he will base his appeal on the claim that maps are an essential component of planning applications, a quasi judicial process. Last month, he published a survey of planning officers concluding that, while in theory maps could come from anywhere, in practice local authorities look askance at applications not supported with OS data. “It appears that no viable alternative to OS exists on the market.”

On that basis, he says, charges for the use of such essential data are a breach of human rights, as well as against the spirit of the EU Inspire directive, passed last year to enable the free exchange of data for the purposes of environmental protection. We await the appeal with interest.

Yes, why minister?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

An interesting question by the Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey to the defence minister Derek Twigg:

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence why the his Department’s review of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office does not incorporate any of the recommendations made in the 2006 Office of Fair Trading report—The Commercial Use of Public Sector Information.

Interesting question, since you could look at the executive summary on this site and not see much consideration of CUPI – only of the threat to UKHO by digitisation. (Personally I’m reminded of the music industry seeing MP3 being introduced and thinking it might be useful for sound in games…)

The reply from Derek Twigg:

The Government published a response to the Office of Fair Trade report, Commercial Use of Public Sector Information, in June 2007. The recommendation for the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office to remain an Executive Agency financed through a Trading Fund took the response by Government fully into account.

If anyone could show us where the CUPI recommendations were taken fully into account in the UKHO consideration, we’d be grateful.

A chance to tell OPSI what we want

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Our friends at the National Archives are making an energetic start to the new year, with a series of events to sound out what re-users of public sector information want from the custodians of our digital crown jewels. The first is a “barcamp” to be held in London a week on Saturday. (A barcamp sounds like one of those establishments on Old Compton Street, but apparently is a new kind of participatory “unconference”.)

Here’s the official announcement.

“The Office of Public Sector Information, part of The National Archives, is holding a conference to ask re-users of public sector information to shape the future of public sector information re-use.  The event is open to anyone interested in public sector re-use and will take place on the 12 January 2008, at the Spey & Ness Rooms, City Inn.

“The aim of the web channel is to present public sector information with a commercial value in a user friendly way that will encourage its re-use and simplify its uptake, by improving interaction between departments and end-users.  The format of the final channel will have been shaped by the user community contributions through the web channel forum (at and this BarCamp ‘unconference’.

“The event follows the decision to launch a web-based channel as recommended by the Power of Information report that will “improve the Government’s responsiveness to demands for public sector information”. If you would like to attend the event you can register and shape the agenda by visiting

“The ‘unconference’ will take place at Spey & Ness Rooms, City Inn, 30 John Islip Street, Westminster, London.” 

Michael Cross will be there for the Free our Data campaign. Say hello!

UK Hydrographic Office decision: executive summary (here)

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

We’ve got hold of the Ministry of Defence’s executive summary on why the UK HYdrographic Office is not being privatised, and essentially being left as a trading fund.

You can read or download the document from the Free Our Data site ( – it’s 42KB, so not long.

The principal threat to UKHO’s current model, which is selling paper charts, is set out at the start..

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are seeking to mandate digital navigation (an announcement is anticipated around 2010). The UKHO already produces a digital chart series for UK waters fulfilling immediate UK obligations. However, IMO mandation will ultimately cause significant reductions in revenue from its international paper chart series. Additionally the Royal Navy has started conversion to digital navigation, and seeks full coverage by 2011. To support the MOD requirement for international digital charts and ensure financial viability, UKHO must rapidly develop a capability to produce new digital products and services for the global market.

Interesting question: how rapidly can it do that with the limited capital available to a trading fund? Privatisation would give it a chunk of money – but lose the control that the MOD clearly thinks is important. Making it a free data provider (we’d suggest) would mean a bigger capital cost – but then you’d not have to prop it up.

As the final paragraph says…

If the margins and volumes available to the Trading Fund from the evolving digital market proved unsustainable, MOD would have to consider the options for central funding to discharge treaty obligations or in the extreme, transfer critical functions to Government departments. This could lead to UKHO becoming a drain on, rather than a contributor to, the UK Defence budget. Delivery of UKHO’s new digital products is critical to its future success.

The full report isn’t being released – which hasn’t pleased some. More in the Guardian’s Technology section this Thursday.