Communities and Local Government Select Committee - Follow up to 2002 Inquiry into Ordnance Survey


Memorandum from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs




The CLG Select Committee follow up inquiry focuses on four areas:

1. The distinction between Ordnance Survey's role as a public information holder and a commercially operating organisation

2. The regulatory regime for the provision of public service information

3. The ending of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement

4. Role of the Geographic Information Panel.

The submission from Defra relates to items 1 and 3 and illustrates issues faced by Defra and its wider 'Network' of Agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies. This evidence is submitted to the Committee to help establish whether the current role of OS is having an impact on data sharing, to ensure that Defra can anticipate any challenges ahead in implementing the INSPIRE Directive[1] and to help find solutions to these constraints.

INSPIRE Directive

Defra and OS have enjoyed a close working relationship throughout the recent negotiations on INSPIRE. However, the Defra Network also experiences difficulties in sharing data derived from OS mapping with our wider delivery partners.

Defra co-ordinated and maintained the UK government position for INSPIRE. Officials worked closely with OS to safeguard the interests of Trading Funds. The EC starting point in negotiations had been that no charges should be allowed for licensing of data between public sector organisations.

However, the Directive will require license terms and conditions for geographic data to be consistent across Europe and consistent with the objectives of the Directive, which are to support sharing and re-use of environmental data.

OS mapping underpins a wide range of Defra Network activities including, for example, the administration of farming subsidy payments and the management of animal disease outbreaks.

We also need to share data derived from OS mapping with our wider delivery partners, non-government organisations and the public. OS licence terms and conditions can constrain our ability to share this information. It is our understanding that these difficulties arise at least in part from the dual role of OS as a public information holder and a commercially operating organisation, which is a specific area of interest for the Committee.

Distinction between Ordnance Survey's role as a public information holder and a commercially operating organisation

The Defra Network licenses OS mapping through the CLG-led Pan-Government Agreement (PGA). Restrictions surrounding the use of OS mapping can have an impact on our business operations, primarily through constraining our ability to share information derived from OS mapping. These restrictions may also have an impact on the obligations to share data that will arise from the INSPIRE Directive.

It is our understanding from discussions with OS that their position as a dominant public sector supplier of information introduces a high risk that government activities using its mapping may be deemed to compete with the private sector.


This risk then restricts the sharing of information derived from OS mapping that could be viewed as a substitute (or partial substitute) for the mapping from which the information was derived.


However, other constraints are also introduced to protect Crown Copyright interests or for revenue protection. The combination of these different factors makes it difficult to identify a straightforward solution to enable the sharing of derived information, and this played a significant part in the failure to re-procure the PGA in 2006.


We need to better understand which constraints arise as a result of the OS dual role and get the right balance between sharing and reuse of information and the trading of public sector information. Ideally this would enable government to share information derived from OS mapping in pursuit of their core business activities and would be manifested through in simpler licensing and charging procedures for sharing derived data.


The following examples of the difficulties in sharing derived data faced by the Defra Network illustrate the current concerns and challenges that will need to be overcome through implementation of the INSPIRE Directive. A key question is therefore whether the dominant position of OS in the market place will have an impact on the ability of OS to comply with the requirements of the Directive?


1. Submission of environmental boundary information to the European Environment Agency 


Defra (with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) recently co-ordinated the submission of boundary data to the European Environment Agency (EEA) from England, Scotland and Wales. These boundaries include Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves and were derived from OS mapping. Although the boundaries themselves could not be used as a substitute for OS mapping, OS apply restrictions with regard to the onward use of such derived information.


UK Government bodies share environmental boundary data as widely as possible with third parties to ensure there is the broadest possible awareness of the designation. The PGA licence requires that a recipient must agree to the terms of a 'derived data licence agreement' before accessing it. This agreement mainly seeks to restrict onward commercial use of the data (for which a royalty would be payable). However, in this case, the need for recipients to agree to these terms has meant that onward distribution of the data around Europe has been restricted.


The EEA has created a portal by which citizens in member states can view and download environmental designation data for different countries. As a result of the OS requirement, UK data has only been made available to view, not to download. The complexities of presenting the licence agreement on the EEA portal for third parties ruled out a download facility. Instead, third parties (including, for example, the United Nations) are separately directed to the relevant bodies in the UK to access that data. The UK now stands out in Europe as restricting access to its data.


2. Restrictions on sharing the Land Cover Map with Defra partner organisations


The Land Cover Map (LCM) is a collaborative project funded by Defra and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. The latest iteration of the project (LCM2007) proposes the creation of a new land cover map derived from MasterMap (a digital mapping product sold by the OS) together with earth observation and other ancillary information. The main business driver for Defra's involvement in this project has been the need to share land cover information with Defra partner organisations (including the European Environment Agency (EEA) as mentioned in 'example 1' above).


Defra has shared a previous incarnation of the LCM with partner organisations. Our position is that the LCM itself cannot be used as a substitute for MasterMap, as it has been created through a process of simplification and combination with other information.


OS supported successful pilot studies of this approach to create an updated version of the LCM (2007). However, OS do not agree with our position that LCM cannot be used as a substitute for MasterMap and distribution is therefore restricted. Royalty free access is only available to organisations already licensed to use the MasterMap product. This undermines Defra's business case for continued investment in the LCM given that the objectives it was designed to satisfy are difficult to reach as a result.





3. 'Open Country' & 'Registered Common Land' information


Natural England (NE) has also faced difficulties in distributing boundaries of Open Country and Registered Common Land to third parties. This information has also been derived from MasterMap. Again, because OS consider that information from mapping can be used as a substitute for the product from which that information was derived, NE were prevented from distributing the information to organisations not licensed to use MasterMap.


A compromise was agreed with OS whereby the derived information could be merged with additional information and the internal boundaries removed. However, this was far from ideal.


The cost of licensing MasterMap means it is prohibitively expensive for most of the smaller or non-government organisations that the Defra 'Network' wishes to share derived information with. 


Ending of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement


Maintaining currency of mapping in Rural and Moorland areas


The National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA) provided funds for OS to undertake activities which were in the national interest, but which do not generate revenue. This included the updating of rural and moorland areas. As a result of the ending of NIMSA funding, the revision of mapping in such areas may become less frequent.


Defra discussed the impact of the loss of NIMSA funding with CLG during the consultation period when removal of the funding was proposed. The Defra Network expressed a strong interest in ensuring that OS mapping is maintained in rural, moorland and coastal areas, as the lengthening of revision cycles means that essential business activities will increasingly rely on out of date information.


It would be helpful to now understand what the impact of removing NIMSA funding has generally been on OS mapping update cycles and specifically on the updating of rural and moorland maps and OS Address data in rural areas?


Our original response to the CLG consultation mentioned that in some instances the Defra Network may increasingly have more up to date information than OS on some rural boundaries, and there may be the potential for data sharing? This has not been explored further.


Defra also expressed strong support for the 24-hour emergency mapping helpline that is funded by NIMSA, which has been continued.

[1] INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the Community) is a European Commission Directive that was adopted in May 2007 to improve the interoperability of spatial information across the European Union at a local, regional, national level.