Mark SayManaging EditorThursday 23 November 2017

UK to establish Geospatial Data Commission

Budget plans to support re-use of data also include making OS MasterMap data more freely available

The Government is to set up a new Geospatial Data Commission to develop a strategy for using public sector location data to support economic growth.

In an effort to make location data more freely available, it has also committed to working with national mapping agency Ordnance Survey on freeing up its OS MasterMap data to support small businesses.

OS MasterMap detailChancellor Philip Hammond announced the moves, with £40 million over the next two years to support them, within yesterday’s Autumn Budget statement, citing it as one of a package of measures designed to boost the development of digital technology and data driven business in the UK.

The establishment of the commission reflects a commitment in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto earlier in the year, which identified for a new body to bring together the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hyrdographic Office and Geological Survey.

It said the existing fragmentation was hindering efforts to release value in land data, and that the new body would be charged with setting standards to digitise the planning process and help create a comprehensive digital map of Britain.

Oversight role

The Budget document says the commission will have a strategic oversight role, implying that that the existing organisations will remain in place.

Freeing up the MasterMap data for re-use is likely to involve making it available under an Open Government Licence or an alternative mechanism. The Budget document says this will be done “while maintaining Ordnance Survey’s strategic strengths”.

The announcement won the praise of the Open Data Institute (ODI), whose chair and co-founder Sir Nigel Shadbolt said: "I’m delighted that the UK government is carrying through on the commitment in the Conservative manifesto to open up UK geospatial data. The data community has been pressing for this for many years.

“In particular, opening up the OS Master Map will stimulate growth and investment in the UK economy, generate jobs and improve services.

“The OS Master Map provides the most detailed landscape data in the UK. It will make it easier to find land for house-building. It will also enable the development of services that improve vital infrastructure.

“The further announcement today of the Geospatial Commission demonstrates a concrete commitment to this agenda. The ODI is ready to work with the Commission to ensure that all the benefits attached to opening up this data are fully realised.”

Removing barriers

Jeni Tennison, the ODI’s chief executive, said: “This is great progress. Open access to OS Master Map isn’t just useful on its own: it will remove current legal barriers that limit the availability of other data – from the foreign ownership of land to the locations of parking spaces – which is essential to understand and tackle housing and transport challenges.”

Image from Ordnance Survey