Government Geospatial Commission opens up OS MasterMap data

The Geospatial Commission, announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in his 2017 Autumn Budget, has opened up some Ordnance Survey MasterMap data to boost small businesses

The Geospatial Commission, which is charged with opening up Ordnance Survey (OS) data for small businesses – as announced by the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, in his November 2017 Autumn Budget – has completed its first task.

This was, as laid out in a statement from the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, to work with the government and Ordnance Survey to open up OS MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses, and others.

This project completion was announced as part of a slew of announcements made by Theresa May at a technology roundtable held to coincide with London Tech Week. Not all OS MasterMap data has been released, however.

News of the data release takes its place alongside the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) unveiling plans to boost the UK’s data strategy with a new centre for data ethics and excellence, also announced during the capital city’s Tech Week.

The Geospatial Commission, for which £40m of government funding has been earmarked over the next two years, will, the government said in November, draw together HM Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority. It sits under the authority of the Cabinet Office.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office confirmed to Computer Weekly in November 2017 that the commission would report jointly to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, draw on public and private sector expertise, and be “led by a chair to be announced in due course”.

The government estimated, in a statement released to coincide with Theresa May’s technology roundtable – held during a difficult Brexit week for the prime minister – that the OS MasterMap data would boost the UK economy by “at least” £130m each year, as startups and other companies used it.

According to the government statement, the £130m will come through a combination of “the OS data becoming freely available, the ability to release additional public datasets derived from the OS MasterMap data by other public sector organisations, and the indirect benefits to the wider economy”.

Read more about the government’s data strategy

  • DCMS sets out plans for National Data Strategy.
  • The government and Newcastle University team up to launch £30m National Innovation Centre for Data, as part of the Northern Powerhouse.
  • House of Lords Select Committee calls for government to draw up an ethical code of conduct, which organisations developing AI can sign up to.

The release of some OS MasterMap data is one of the first projects to be delivered by the Geospatial Commission, in conjunction with Ordnance Survey.

Open Data Institute (ODI) CEO Jeni Tennison said it welcomed the recent release of some of the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap data. “It is a step in the right direction, allowing flexible use of open property boundary data. Some other data will be freely accessible, but this won’t satisfy users requiring large amounts of data or more flexibility. We hope to see government give the Geospatial Commission the power it needs to create a fairer and more sustainable data ecosystem,” she said.

The datasets that will be made available for free, up to what the statement described as a “threshold of transactions”, are: OS MasterMap Topography Layer, including building heights and functional sites; OS MasterMap Greenspace Layer; OS MasterMap Highways Network; OS MasterMap Water Network Layer; and OS Detailed Path Network.

The government said the data would boost the housing market due to the ability to identify potential development sites not currently registered.

However, the ODI’s Tennison argued for Ordnance Survey to open up all of its data. “OS should offer paid-for service-level agreements to users like large companies who need guaranteed access or availability. We think OS and others should compete fairly to provide the best APIs [application programming interfaces], support, and other services over this public data,” she wrote in a blog post.

Among the data not released, she highlighted topographical features, such as building heights, and data about green spaces, road layouts, access points and waterways.

In support of the release of the data, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, said: “Opening up OS MasterMap underlines this government’s commitment to ensuring the UK continues to lead the way in digital innovation. Releasing this valuable government data for free will help stimulate innovation in the economy, generate jobs and improve public services.

“Location-aware technologies – using geospatial data – are revolutionising our economy. From navigating public transport to tracking supply chains and planning efficient delivery routes, these digital services are built on location data that has become part of everyday life and business.

“The newly available data should be particularly useful to small firms and entrepreneurs,” he added.

Neil Ackroyd, interim CEO of Ordnance Survey, said: “Ordnance Survey holds the most accurate and comprehensive set of location data for Great Britain, making public sector services work more efficiently and helping to build innovative businesses across every sector of the economy.

“Since its launch in 2001, OS MasterMap has been one of the most comprehensive and detailed geospatial reference datasets in the world. This latest development is another step on Ordnance Survey’s open data journey.”

Artificial intelligence at London Tech Week

Meanwhile, at another event held during London Tech Week – the AI Summit – business secretary Greg Clark announced an AI masters programme, which he said had “brought together the British Computer Society and the Turing Institute with leading universities, and businesses like Ocado, Amazon and Rolls-Royce, and will start work in July”.

This programme was mentioned as part of an AI sector deal policy paper published in April 2018 by the departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

“AI is at the centre of a thriving digital tech sector now worth £184bn to the UK economy. Tech-related investments in Britain surged nearly 90% last year, more than in France, Germany and Sweden combined,” said Clark.


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