Free Our Data: the blog

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


Ordnance Survey data goes free: yes, we had noticed (just hadn’t written it…)


OS OpenData Meridian 2 rendered with OpenStreetMap’s Mapnik. Photo on Flickr. Map data: Ordnance Survey.

Apologies for not writing about this sooner; we have been busy and all sorts.

So, go get your Ordnance Survey data.

As you’ll surely have noticed, Ordnance Survey has made a chunk of data available for free personal or commercial reuse, under a licence that equates to Creative Commons Attribution – you have to say what’s in it.

Disappointingly the 1:25K and 1:50K datasets (Explorer and Landranger) were not released – this has been a huge disappointment to paper mapmakers and others who wanted to do some innovative things with them. The Ramblers’ Association in particular had really been hoping for those.

Great stuff with the Boundary Line data, CodePoint (postcode to lat/long) and Meridian data. CodePoint on its own is saving lots of people lots of money – Cyclestreets reckons that’s £2,000 of money it doesn’t have to lay out annually to run its site.

OpenStreetMap is still discussing the implications of the licence and whether it wants to import the data. But it has set up a parallel project which uses it.

More visualisations via OSM:

For us, this doesn’t feel like the end of the road; it’s much more like the beginning, where now we have to see what people are going to do with it to prove the usefulness of the idea. And of course there are so many more potential data sources that should go free – tide times and flood maps being two which spring to mind. Come on, UK Hydrographic Office and Environment Agency.

We welcome your opinions.

16 Responses to “Ordnance Survey data goes free: yes, we had noticed (just hadn’t written it…)”

  1. Artem Pavlenko Says:

    Just a small correction, while Mapnik is the main renderer for OpenStreetMap it’s independent and it’s used to render beautiful maps for many other projects, not just OSM (see http://www.everyblock.com/ for example). Great blog btw!

  2. Paul Bennett Says:

    Paths, tracks and all rights of way are omitted from all freely available OS data sets. These surely are an essential component of “public data” which ought to be freed.

  3. paul Says:

    Whilst I support this great development your title is “Free Our Data: Make taxpayers’ data available to them” should this apply to Google? being that they are not exactly paying all they should?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/dec/20/google-avoids-450m-corporation-tax

    Also I personally see it as a sad backwards step that a lot of data is only being made available as shapefiles, but I guess you get what you pay for.

  4. Brian Williams Says:

    Pretty useless to most people who want to be able to walk anywhere in their own country without having to stump up £££s for the privilege.

  5. DaveD Says:

    I suppose half a cake is better than none, but what a missed opportunity!

    We are apparently condemned to a location toolset linked to postcodes for the foreseeable future. This was great when we had no alternative method to pinpoint an address, or a point of interest, but really doesn’t cut the mustard now that all features are geocoded, and data such as addresses has been linked to an accurate position. Now we are in the twenty first century, we ought to see the post code for what it really is – a blind alley.

    The Post Office were doing something very progressive when they introduced postcodes, but the release of Codepoint under the new OS regime is very much a half measure. The centre of a postcode doesn’t give precise enough data to make satnav and other location processes fit for purpose in so many applications that we now should be developing. Other countries will leapfrog our methods even if they never adopted post/zip coding techniques.

    Presumably the reason for the cop out was – at least in part – financial. Gazetteers such as NLPG or Address Point were just too expensive to take the hit on the lost royalties to OS and RM that would have been necessary. But the strategic loss from poor location capability across UK plc will, even in the medium term, quickly outstrip the savings.

    So we still need to keep up the campaign – free data is what is needed to escape from the cul de sac the current location mechanisms have got us into.

  6. Archaeogeek Says:

    +1 for tide times and flood map data! With the latter it would make it much easier to call insurance companies to account- though I am aware that “I am on a hill and therefore not likely to get flooded” over-simplifies the matter somewhat!

    With my archaeologist hat on I’d really like to see the historic mapping (prior to the New Popular Edition) made available, even just as a web service.

  7. Richard Says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that the Open version of CodePoint is GB only not UK. Is anyone aware of the situation in Northern Ireland with OSNI?

  8. NickH Says:

    To walkers and other outdoor types the OS OpenData package offers nothing at all. Data in any form on public rights of way is not included, which is reprehensible.

    The encouragement of participation in healthy outdoor pursuits such as walking is a stated national aim and the freeing of core data on rights-of-way would have been of great help in furthering this aim.

    My personal view is the Survey have done what they consider to be the very minimum necessary to get the free-our-data campaigners off their backs. The whole package is highly disappointing and the failure to include anything on rights-of-way is little short of disgraceful.

  9. Peter W Says:

    Official right-of-way or unofficial rights-of-way, there has always been a debate from Local Government and OS on this. So let’s just call them footpaths and bridleways. Nevertheless, they should all be included.

  10. NickH Says:

    @Peter W. The Survey say that they can’t make public rights of way (PRoW) data available under an OpenData licence because they don’t ‘own’ it. I suppose one has to assume that the data is ‘owned’ by the local authorities. I’ve dropped a line to my LA to ask them if this is the case, but they are taking their time about replying. However, if PRoW data is ‘owned’ by the LAs perhaps this is not such a bad thing, at least they are directly answerable to the public for what they do, which the Survey is not.

  11. paul Says:

    @nickh. from memory PROW data is maintained by County Councils

  12. John Hunter Says:

    I downloaded all the raster maps for the TQ area and after about 30mins of playing a game of Pairs with 389 cards in the pack I managed to find two tiles that went together.
    TQ20SE and TQ30SW sit side by side. However I stupidly thought that SE stood for South East and SW for South West but TQ20SE lies to the West of TQ30SW. It seems to me that all the freely available O|S data has been obfuscated quite deliberately.

  13. mfarley Says:

    @John Hunter… I can promise that that data has not been ‘obfuscated quite deliberately’… SE does stand for south-east and SW for south-west. They are simply internal references for the 4 5×5km tiles within the larger 10×10km tile. Therefore TQ20SE does lie to the west of TQ30SW because TQ20 is to the west of TQ30. This has been standard for a good many years now… Check out the guide to the National Grid on the OS website.

    Hope this helps.

  14. NickH Says:

    John Hunter wrote “It seems to me that all the freely available O|S data has been obfuscated quite deliberately”.

    Wait until you see the washed-out, badly-rendered OS VectorMap District rasters (now available for download). These really have been crippled to make them unusable by anyone with an eye for a map. They have no detail, appalling labelling and absurdly over-heavy grid lines. Shameless, shameless.

  15. Bob Glum Says:

    Ha ha John Hunter, nice one. This is exactly why the OS want to charge for data – it keeps the ignorant from using them.
    They have opened themselves up to a world of pain now.

  16. Chris Johnson Says:

    great post. i read these every week. Keep up the good work.

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