Ordnance survey data released for free on the OS OpenData web site

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

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For quite some time, the United States has been unique in that most of its federal government data, including GIS data, has been free to the general public. Now, for the first time in 250 years, the Ordnance Survey of Great Britian (OSGB), has also decided to release, for free, some of its data. In this transcript of a speech given on March 22, 2010 on “Building Britain’s Digital Future”, Prime Minister Gordon Brown states, “I can confirm that from 1st April, we will be making a substantial package of information held by ordnance survey freely available to the public, without restrictions on re-use.” (There are also some interesting references to other data sets that will be made available as well.)

The Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, maintains map data at several resolutions for map products at different scales. The free data they are releasing relates to their mid-scale map products at 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 map scale. The data are avaialable on the OS OpenData Web site at: The majority of the data can be downloaded, although some has to be ordered for delivery by DVD. The OS OpenData products include:

Not surprisingly, some of the most desirable and useful data that the OSGB produces and maintains are not being released, such as the large scale (1:1,250 and 1:2,500) MasterMap data which includes vector representations of buildings and land parcels for the UK. Nonetheless, the current release provides some excellent opportunities for developers to create products without the huge financial overheads that have prevailed to date.

Note that in May OSGB will be releasing OS VectorMap District, “a new mid-scale product within the OS VectorMap family available in both raster and vector formats. It is designed to be a flexible and customisable product specifically designed for use on the web.” At this point, there are no plans to release any further data, although all the datasets will be maintained and updated.

Kudos to OSGB for making these data available — many cartographers and map makers will find these resources invaluable!

About the author

Dr. Aileen Buckley has been making maps since she was an undergraduate student. She has a Bachelors in Geography and Spanish from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Geography from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in Geography from Oregon State University. She is a senior product engineer on the Living Atlas team, and her work focuses on determining and sharing best practices for mapping and analysis with modern GIS. She publishes and presents world-wide on many aspects of mapping and GIS. She is a co-author of Map Use: Reading, Analysis, Interpretation, and she is a co-editor for the Atlas of Oregon. Aileen is a former president of CaGIS (the U.S. cartographic association) and is actively involved with the International Cartographic Association in which she is the lead delegate for the United States.

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