OS OpenData goes live!

Today is a big day in our history with the launch of OS OpenData, giving more access to free, unrestricted Ordnance Survey mapping than ever before. You can read more about the service and the products available in our news release.

Today’s launch is the result of a huge amount of work by a great number of people both here at Ordnance Survey, in government and elsewhere, including Professor Nigel Shadbolt at the University of Southampton and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web. To understand a little more about the project and how OS OpenData fits into the wider work of the ‘Making Public Data Public’ initiative, Nigel and Sir Tim made a film whilst here in Southampton for our recent Terra Future conference.

Keen to know what everyone thinks of the service, although please be patient with it!

Update – May will see OS VectorMap District added to OS OpenData. There are sample tiles and data available now on our website.

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52 Responses

    1. Hi Denis. We’ve been suffering the usual launch day gremlins I’m afraid. You can still access OS OpenData via this alternative address http://opendata.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/ but at the moment only the ‘Viewer’ is working. The tech guys are working very hard to get the download centre back up and running and we think we will have a solution within the next couple of hours. I’ll let you know when it’s back live and kicking.

  1. Nick Hopton

    I was saddened but not surprised to find that 1:25,000-scale raster mapping is not included in OpenData. This is the mapping that most of the people who have paid for the Ordnance Survey time and time again over the years would most like to see made available.

    For those who take their recreation in the great outdoors the datasets on offer from OpenData are entirely useless.

  2. Psymon

    Missed Opportunity!
    It is a great shame that the opportunity for open mapping has been missed.
    I can see the advantage for car drivers, who will benefit from cheaper GPS systems with this new open system of maps, but walkers have still to pay exorbitant costs for electronic information.It would cost well over £500 for digital maps at 25000:1 for the UK! OpenData, I don’t think so.

  3. @nick @Psymon I really appreciate your point of view and taking the time to write here on our blog – thank you. The datasets that have been released were chosen as a direct result of the Government consultation and the products that would most support the aims of the ‘Making Public Data Public’ project. You can read about why 1:25,000 scale data wasn’t included here: http://bit.ly/cGQuMm page 31, section 4.51.

    I’m sorry you’re both disappointed, but don’t forget that you can make free use of 1:50,000 scale data through the OS OpenSpace API – http://openspace.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/

  4. Nick Hopton

    Hello Paul, thanks for the reply, it is appreciated. Wearing my walking hat, my main concern is that the Survey have failed to provide data in any form on rights of way. If not rights of way on 1:25,000 raster mapping then why not as vector layers? This is not an issue that is just going to disappear.

    I have been trying to extract something that might be of use for walking basemaps from the Meridian 2 dataset, but this has been “simplified” (or “crippled”, depending on where you stand) beyond reasonable usability, with missing roads and some features plotted hundreds of metres from their true position.

    The result of all of this is that OpenData offers nothing to people like me and this will do the Survey no good. Times are hard and you need friends at the moment, not enemies.

    Regarding OpenSpace; it doesn’t have 1:25,000 mapping and even if it did it would not be on terms that would make it of much use.


  5. @nick @psymon

    I think the overwhelming public gain from making vector data products freely available which can be processed and linked to other open govt data sets outweighs the benefits of releasing the raster products.

    Releasing the rasters would have potentially undermined the business model for OS printed maps which whilst it might have appealed to some would certainly be opposed by many of us who have a long-standing affection for them including several in the House of Lords.

    But there is more to the great outdoors than landranger and explorer maps. There is no reason why an enterprising publisher should not start to create their own optimised walking maps using a combination of the vector product, height data and information from the crowd sourced Open Street Map. The OpenCycleMaps.org and CycleStreets.net project are good examples.

    I would be happy to make some introductions for you if you are interested in finding out more about community mapping projects.


  6. Nick Hopton

    Hello Steve, thanks for your comments on my posts. Rather than get too involved at this stage in the issues you’ve raised I’d like to give Paul the opportunity to respond to my point about making rights-of-way vector layers available.

    Regards, Nick.

    1. @steven thanks for your comments. If anyone wants to read more from Steven he’s written and excellent blog post here about OS OpenData: http://bit.ly/d1adHL

      @nick Steven is right about rights of way. Because that information isn’t ‘owned’ by OS we can’t make it available for free – its not ours to give away I’m afraid. I’m sorry that’s not the answer you were hoping for, but if there is a specific project you’re working on or would like to work on, I can put you in touch with someone as OS who could help. Just let me know.

      I should have mentioned earlier that there is more to come from OS OpenData. In May we’re releasing something called OS VectorMap District which you might be interested in. You can read more here and even download a couple of sample areas to play with http://bit.ly/dD0sA8

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  8. Nick Hopton

    Hello Paul, thanks for the response (and you shouldn’t be working on a Saturday by the way, but I’m grateful that you are).

    You confirm my fears that rights-of-way data will not be made available to the public, in any form. Thus, I have to repeat my earlier assertion that OS OpenData offers nothing to people like me who follow outdoor pursuits, such as walking.

    If the Survey does not own the rights-of-way data, the question now is who does and where do I go from here? The owners are all, one supposes, elected public bodies, do I apply to them under the FIA?

    I have already downloaded the samples of OS VectorMap District mapping and it looks well enough, but it will not be of much use to me and people like me without the ROW layers.

  9. Nick Hopton

    Hello Steven, this is an overdue response to the posting above.

    I take your point on the reasons why 1:25,000 raster mapping was not included in the OpenData package, though I still believe it would have been a good thing had some method been found so to do.

    The efforts of the Open Cycle Map and Open Street Map communities (and similar ones) are genuinely appreciated. However, when it comes to rights-of-way it is only the vector data held and used by the Survey that is definitive. I don’t think there can be much argument that this is core data essential to the general health and well-being on the nation and I strongly believe that it should be freely available under the OpenData licence. I am also sure that the data could be made available on such terms, given a modicum of goodwill on the part of the parties concerned. Exactly whom ‘the parties’ are and the nature of their relationship remains to be discovered of course. You must imagine me smiling as I wrote that.

  10. As one whose interest is mainly in rural areas, the released OS suite is terribly disappointing. The Land-Form Panorama dataset is, I think, an improvement on the freely available NASA STRM heights, and its unmaintained status probably doesn’t matter in rural areas. O S Street View is, however, almost useless as all path and land form information has been crudely hacked out. A quick look at the area around Snowdon summit, for example, shown path and outcrop names still on the raster, but the features themselves removed. From what I can see from the Bath sample of Vector Map District, it won’t show paths, tracks or bridleways either; will there be outcrop information?
    It seems to me that neither Street View nor Vector Map District will be any use as context backgrounds in rural areas. Let me offer an example of our current problem: we need a context background for APRS (automatic position reporting over radio) data in the New Forest in support of volunteer emergency communications. In this scenario, w e certainly won’t have WWW access. We could buy a paper 1:25000 map for £8 and (illegally) scan it. We could easily steal the map tiles from streetmap.co.uk for free. We can get a locked digital raster of the National Park for £50 from Anquet, but we would not be able to use it as a context background. Buying the necessary fifteen unlocked TIFF tiles from OS would cost a whopping £282 for just one of our operational areas.

  11. Philip Fletcher

    Congratulations on releasing some really great data, but please, please include Public Rights of Way (PRoWs) on the OS VectorMap District ESRI files when they are released in May.

  12. Nick Hopton

    It’s good to read the comments left by Denis and Philip, above.

    When I learned that that 1:25,000 Explorer mapping would not be included in the OpenData mix I (in common with many others) was deeply disappointed. However, having looked again at the reasons given by the Survey for excluding the Explorer and Landranger mapping, I must say that on reflection I now find their case for not including the data in the mix to be both reasonable and compelling.

    The problem is that this leaves the Survey open to the charge that OpenData offers nothing to the outdoor community in general or to the walking community in particular. For very good reasons it is a stated national goal to encourage outdoor activities like walking and I regard the freeing of core public data on rights-or-way to be an essential part of helping to ensure that the objective of encouraging greater participation in healthy exercise is met.

    In my opinion the full ROW dataset should be made available in a re-distributable vector format, as quickly as possible.

    1. I’m chuffed to see such a vibrant debate – thanks everyone. I don’t think there is a much I can add which doesn’t repeat my last post. But, if you feel very strongly about Rights of Way information, which I can see everyone does and can understand why, why not raise it with your local authority or OPSI (Office for Public Sector Information)? OPSI even have a ‘unlocking service’ where you can suggest information you’d like to see made available – http://www.opsi.gov.uk/unlocking-service/index.htm

  13. Nick Hopton

    Thanks Paul, I am a member of the RA and I have already dropped them a line about this issue, trusting that they will take up the cudgels on behalf of the membership. There is a very strong case to be made for freeing-up ROW data and I’ll wait to see how the Association reacts to my email before ploughing my own lonesome furrow. This shouldn’t stop anyone else from going down the road you suggest, quite the reverse in fact.

  14. Paul Bennett

    The Public Rights of Way need to be included… it’s a little disingenuous to say “it’s not our data” – couldn’t the same be said of the Post Office data included in Code Point Open?

    However, I also not that the VectorMap District samples don’t show other essential items: tracks and paths. Particularly in Scotland these are an essential part of the highway infrastructure.

  15. Nick Hopton

    I think that in the absence of any indication of the Survey’s position on the possible freeing of ROW vectors under the OpenData licence the word ‘disingenuous’ is out of place here. It assumes that the Survey would automatically oppose such a move, which might well not be the case.

  16. 30179

    Did anyone really expect that the best of Ordnance Survey data would be handed over free?
    There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    While there are many who would say that as Ordnance Survey is funded by us the tax payers, I would say, so are the armed forces, but that does not entitle us to board a warship in Portsmouth and expect a free trip round the Solent

  17. Nick Hopton

    Hi Paul, just a couple of points. Does the Survey actually hold ROW data as vectors? I’ve seen it suggested that they do everything with high-resolution rasters, which seems unlikely to me. The other thing is, can you give us positive confirmation that the VectorMap District mapping will not include ROWs?

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  20. @Nick sorry for the tardiness of my reply! I can confirm that OS VectorMap District won’t include ROW, again its all about who owns that information. If it’s not ours we can’t make it free.

    I’ll look into the ROW vectors question and will come back to you if that’s ok?

  21. Moo

    Obvious answer for me, anyway, would have been to make the data free for non-profit use only. Including the rasters people are wanting. This way OS would still get their money from businesses, which is where the majority of their money comes from, but private individuals, charities, schools, city councils, non-profit organisations, etc, would be able to use the data that would generally be too expensive for them otherwise.

    As for not having the rights of way data.. Even the not-necessarily-very-accurate data that is present on the paper maps would be a step forward if it was available as open data.
    Could even make it a condition that local government, or whoever DOES hold the accurate information, has to supply OS with it in exchange for free access to up-to-date mapping..

    Another thing.. Historical mapping. Why not just release copyright on it? Or at least reduce the amount of time before it goes out of copyright. Don’t even need to supply it online, just let people use/copy/scan the old paper maps they have without worries about copyright.

  22. I’m also a little disappointed about the lack of PRoW data, but maybe this is something the government needs to sort out. I’d be very interested to hear who does actually ‘own’ the data. Since PRoW are generally drawn over OS maps, local authorities presumably don’t own all of it either. If a LA was to agree to release their part, would OS agree to waive any of their IP rights in the data?

    On another issue, I’m glad that the license for OS OpenData was chosen to be compatible with a standard license (CC-By). But Am I right in thinking that for the data products and data derived (traced) from the raster images, the license isn’t compatible with the Open Database License http://www.opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl/ ? Might OS consider dual licensing to allow use in projects using this license?

  23. Richard

    Codepoint Open is going to be GB, whilst the paid version is UK. Is there any news on whether OSNI will be able to allow this to be extended to UK?

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for posting. I don’t know the answer to your licensing question I’m afraid but you can put it to the OS OpenData team directly on opendata@ordnancesurvey.co.uk

      Going back to ROW data, it is information wholly owned and maintained by Local Authorities, each of which look after what is scarily called the ‘Definitive Map’ and ‘Definitive Statement’. I’m sorry that there is no easy answer to this one, but you can find out more on most council websites – here it is for our own Hampshire County Council

  24. Unfortunately PRoW data is not “wholly owned … by local authorities.” The “definitive maps” consist of lines drawn on top of OS base maps, and are thus considered derivative works with IP rights claimed by OS. If OS were to waive their IP rights in the vector representations of the rights of way, I’m sure many local authorities would only be to happy to release them for public use.

  25. Moo

    If only all authorities had as good online information as Hampshire does..

    Does anyone know of a good website/forum for ROW information/discussion?

  26. Nick Hopton

    Hi Paul, sorry too for my tardiness in following-up your post. I had assumed that OS VectorMap District would not have rights-of-way and you have kindly confirmed this. It’s important to get these things straight.

    I would still be interested in knowing in what form the Survey holds PRoW data.

    1. @nick I’ve done some more digging on ROW information. It is the IP of the Local Authorities and currently we have an agreement that allows us to to include it in OS Explorer and OS Landranger Maps. Copies of the ‘Definitive Map’ are passed to our Data Collection and Management team where any changes are put into our GIS system in a vector format. These changes get fed through to Cartographic Production who update the ROW information within our raster mapping. Digitising the changes in this way is actually something we’ve not been doing for very long so we don’t have a full coverage in vector format, but it seems the answer to your question is a bit of both! I hope that makes sense!

  27. It’s unfortunate that the Definite Maps contain IP rights belonging to both OS and the local authorities, and as such neither is able to release the data on their own.

    Maybe an easier set of data to free up for re-use would be the “Definitive Statements” which provide textural descriptions of the Public Rights of Way. Would someone from OS be able to give an official statement that OS waives any of their IP rights that may be contained in the Definitive Statements (by virtue of the fact that parts may have been written by reference to the definitive maps)?

    If OS could do this, it would at least mean that the text of the Definitive Statements would belong wholly to the relevant local authority, and they would be able to give permission for it to be re-used by others — for example by someone wanting to add rights of way information to their own maps.

  28. Nick Hopton

    The OS VectorMap District raster mapping has appeared on the OS OpenData web site. According to the Survey this mapping is intended to be used to provide a background layer, but it is entirely unfit for this purpose.

    The mapping lacks local detail and the grid lines are over-heavy, blurred and obtrusive. The highway numbering and labelling is obtrusive and is entirely inappropriate for mapping of this type. All of the labelling is non-conventional, blurred and much of it is slipshod. The ‘flying mortar-board hats’ are obtrusive, unnecessary and appear to have been added solely with the intention of reducing the usefulness of the mapping by spoiling its appearance.

    Finally, this is not the mapping we were promised. The samples posted a month ago had a resolution of 300 x 300 dpi. The mapping as released has a resolution of 254 x 254 dpi. It appears that the higher-resolution mapping has been deliberately degraded in the crudest possible way, resulting in devastating blurring, jagged lines and loss of detail.

    1. Hi Nick, now the election is done and dusted I’ll be posting more about OS VectorMap District next week. In the meantime, thank you for your comments, even if they’re not very positive! It is an Alpha release, and so is very much still ‘under development’ and feedback like yours in invaluable in making it better over the coming weeks and months. Regarding some of your specific points (about the resolution etc) I’m going to ask the Product Team for some answers and will come back to you.

  29. Nick Hopton

    Once again, thanks for the reply Paul. I’m afraid I let some of my outrage grin through in my previous posting, but really, these raster images are truly dreadful. I’ll wait to read what you have to say about OS VectorMap District next week.

    1. No worries, I know how passionate people are about our maps and its something we’re grateful for. I’ve just spoken to Rob Gower (the chap in our video) about your concerns. He tells me that the resolution has been dictated by the timescale we’re working to. We intended to release it at 300dpi but because we also want to get OS VectorMap District into OS OpenSpace this month, which uses mapping at 254dpi, this is the resolution we’re using for the first release. It’s just a case of getting one thing done at a time I’m afraid and certainly not an effort to downgrade the product.

      Rob also told me that the symbols may well change with the feedback we get so all suggestions are welcome!

  30. How nice to see and hear Rob again. Please pass on my regards. I have downloaded OS VectorMap District and look forward to playing with the tiles. And perhaps providing some feedback which I hope Rob will find useful, and may post also to @steveedgemaps on twitter. I’ll also be interested to see the difference between 300dpi and 254dpi. Methinks it’ll make little difference to maps on screen but 300dpi might be a tad better on paper. Interesting times!

  31. Rob Gower

    Hi Steve. Great to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. I’m pleased to hear you are still maintaining your interest in GI and I hope you like OS VectorMap District. This is very much an Alpha version that we have created to meet what we understand to be the need for contextual mapping and we will be looking to enhance and develop it in the future. I would welcome any comments you might have especially as this is a direct result of some of the conversations we have had with you about the future of mapping and meeting customer needs. Gary and I have always greatly valued your input and enthusiasm for all things mapping over the years. I’m very interested to hear how people are using it and am looking forward to seeing examples of it supporting different products and services.

    1. Hi Robert, sorry I missed you – it wasn’t deliberate! I pretty certain that we don’t claim any IP in the Definitive Statement so it really is one for the Local Authorities, but just to be sure I’ve asked a colleague in our IP team to check. I’ll let you know as soon as he gets back to me.

  32. My own efforts over many years to convince local authorities to release digital versions of their rights of way information in vector format led to a very patchy picture of just how the local authorities maintain that information (in fact much of their geographic information). Some have it digitised to a reasonable standard in vector format, and some do not have it digitised. The currency of the information is not consistent either. It’s a classic case of “the information is maintained in such a way that enables the authority to fulfil its own statutory duties”. This approach gives scant regard to common (or even popular) digital mapping standards. Thus the idea of compiling a national set from a variety of digital datasets is rather fraught with difficulties and could lead to interpretational problems when using the information when out walking. A plethora of mapping mash-ups using statutory information with no regard to currency and accuracy is going to help no-one. At least the OS maps carry a statement of the currency of rights of way information shown, something I just can’t see many mash-up mappers being bothered with.

  33. Moo makes a comment about historical mapping. As far as I am concerned, you can scan out of copyright paper OS mapping and re-use it just how you wish. So, just flipping do it, Moo!

  34. Hi all, I’ve now heard back from my colleagues in our legal team with a definitive answer…

    “I can confirm that Ordnance Survey does not claim any intellectual property rights in the text of ‘Definitive Statements’ prepared by local authorities to specify public rights of way.”

    I hope this helps!

  35. Its a shame that the OS didn’t release any ESRI Style files or layer files for any of the vector format OS opendata.

    The rasters are great and can be used straight away in a GIS, but the Vector data is isn’t proving to be of much use to anyone as its really difficult to create a useful symbology for it.

  36. Nick Hopton

    Dominic, Hi. The VectorMap District shape files don’t have style files, but they style quite well in QGIS. Some of the layers do have severe problems and of course the lack of detail is reprehensible, but with a little work what there is can be styled without too much trouble. But nothing has been done to make the layers easy to use, that’s for sure.

  37. Gwyn Dewey

    This is welcome news we now have gvsig on android and this is fantastic for use whilst walking. You can now even cache the maps for use in the hills where typically you have no online data access. However the OS have missed a trick here. They should’ve gone the whole hog and given up 1:25000 as well. This mapping as you know has field boundarys and more extensive rights of way than the 50000 ones. 50000 is a good start yes but pressure should come to bear on OS to make all their mapping freely available. We pay our taxes for the OS to do the survey then we pay again for the maps how ludicrous is that. If not free then surely more reasonable than the touted £3000 for the whole of the UK as it stands now. As any self respecting walker knows you also need a paper map and a compass and know how to use them anyway in order to avoid a battery problem if you have digital alone.

  38. Ian

    If the public paid for the creation of OS data through taxes, how can it be an infringement of copyright if the public use it in any way they see fit. This sounds to me like another financial scam. People (the elite in society) making money from the public purse. Selling public information assets back to public is shameful.

  39. If I understand the process, Ian and Gwyn, the money made from sales of OS products goes towards the creation of said OS products.

    So if OS products are free the taxpayer (people like you and me) would need to pay more in tax. You get free OS products but would all taxpayers be happy to subsidise you? It’s an interesting thought…

    I think the current arrangements are very welcome and a far cry from the days when all OS products were very expensive and beyond the reach of many.

    And I see Google are beginning to charge “super users” for using their “maps”. They’ll be charging everyone before too long. Google maps have their uses but I prefer a map with known accuracies and published update cycles 🙂

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