Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Ordnance Survey



  1.  Ordnance Survey is Britain's national mapping organisation. We maintain the definitive geographical framework for Great Britain, as well as capturing and marketing a wide range of geographical information. Our Director General is the United Kingdom Government's official adviser on geographical information. Ordnance Survey is a Government department and executive agency, and since 1999 has operated as a trading fund.


  2. Ordnance Survey surveys and collects data on roads, buildings, addresses, boundaries, water courses, height and many other aspects of the landscape of Britain. Although traditionally supplied to the user as paper maps, this data is now more usually supplied as digital information which can be readily analysed, manipulated and linked to other information. This huge digital database of the surface of Britain is known as OS MasterMap®. It is kept up to date on a daily basis with up to 5,000 changes being added to the database each day. It forms a valuable resource for government in this country underpinning around £100 billion of economic activity.

  3.  We have agreements in place with both local and central government for the supply of our products to support their activities. Government is a major user of geographic information for policy-making, planning, operations, monitoring and analysis. The geographic perspective and the ability to cross refer data on a geographic basis add considerable value to the business of government.

  4.  We also have agreements in place with various utility companies including most of the water supply utility companies within Great Britain. They use our products in order to plan and manage their water supply networks and also to make provision for any additional storage capacity required in order to prepare for the ever increasing demand for water.


  5.  The main government agency within England and Wales with responsibility for the monitoring of climate change and water policy is the Environment Agency. One of the core functions of Environment Agency is defined as providing high quality environmental protection and improvement in England and Wales through an emphasis on prevention and education, and then vigorous enforcement where necessary. Over 80% of Environment Agency's core data, used for environmental and flood monitoring is geographically referenced and is underpinned by Ordnance Survey data. In many instances, Ordnance Survey data has been used as the base material for the compilation of a wide diversity of Environment Agency datasets used within flood defence, water and air quality monitoring, landfill site management and other applications. Environment Agency's National Flood and Coastal Defence Database (NFCDD) will bring together a number of Environment Agency datasets using OS MasterMap as the underpinning element in order to provide Environment Agency with a fully integrated flood monitoring system covering all major rivers within England and Wales together with coastal areas liable to flooding. This will enable Environment Agency to plan flood defences more efficiently and provide a better flood warning system for the public.

  6.  Within the European Water Framework Directive, Environment Agency has the responsibility for improving the condition of nearly all surface and groundwater flows across England and Wales. In order to do this, Environment Agency requires to build up a complete picture of an entire water catchment area from source to estuary. This picture will include all natural water processes as well as human input in terms of industrial and agricultural pollution and its effects on the biodiversity of each catchment. Ordnance Survey data will enable Environment Agency to build definitive maps of each catchment area by supplying the underpinning element in defining the extents of these catchment areas. Ordnance Survey MasterMap topographic layer data could be used to provide all the component polygons in the construction of a catchment dataset, to which can be added Environment Agency information plus information from other government departments and private sector organisations.

  7.  Environment Agency is increasingly being asked to supply its data to other government departments and to local government as well as the private sector. The availability of this data in a form that will be fully interchangeable with other bodies will be made possible if this data is supplied to a common referencing framework. Ordnance Survey's Digital National Framework (DNF), linked and delivered through OS MasterMap via the unique identifiers or TOIDS within OS MasterMap, seeks to provide all organisations with a common referencing framework. This will allow each organisation to uniquely identify each geographical location within their data. In this way, data interoperability will be ensured and allow each organisation to have access to the highest quality and most current data.

  8.  To date, neither the Environment Agency nor Ordnance Survey have developed a complete and functional networked river layer that is tied to detailed height information: a combination of data crucial to managing the predicted effects of climate change. Recent advances in remote-sensing technology demonstrated by the EA (for height detail), together with the OS MasterMap initiative (for water features) can now meet this need. Project Atlantis is a forum which seeks to provide better information to support decision making for flooding and environment risk management, is being sponsored by Environment Agency, Ordnance Survey and a number of other key government agencies within Great Britain. The scope of the project is defined as being to develop a national (England and Wales) set of definitive, integrated and maintained datasets to provide a better geographic information framework for flood management and the protection of the water-related environment over the next two to three years. These datasets will be interoperable with one another and with the national framework provided by OS MasterMap.

  9.  The Environment Agency has a duty to secure the proper use of water resources in England and Wales. EA monitors water in the environment, and issues "abstraction licences" to regulate who can take water from the environment. These specify the amount of water someone can take from a location over a period of time. EA also has a long term strategy for Water Resources that looks 25 years ahead and considers the needs of both the environment and society. Also, one of Environment Agency's nine business themes is Limiting and Adapting to Climate Change which is a major component of its Corporate Vision and forms the basis of corporate performance targets. EA has a large science project investigating Climate Change and how the EA can respond to the various issues raised. Ordnance Survey data is used widely within the science function as part of its role in delivering the corporate vision.

Ordnance Survey

April 2004

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