The government has announced that its new £40m Geospatial Commission will start its strategy of releasing more of the location data held by public bodies to help businesses and boost economic growth, by giving small businesses free access to OS MasterMap® data.
It has been announced that the new £40m Geospatial Commission, sitting under the authority of the Cabinet Office, will release Ordnance Survey location data first to help boost business for small companies.
What Is Geospatial Data?
Geospacial data in the context of this article refers to augmenting a geographic map with other data specific to points on that map, thereby enabling the added value of observations, analysis, and planning. It was first used in 1854 by John Snow, who plotted each cholera death in London’s Soho on a map, and from the mapped points was able to isolate a specific water pump as the source of the disease, and thereby prove his theory that cholera came from contact with sewage-contaminated water rather than being airborne.
The announcement was made in Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond’s latest budget.
The wider intention is that Geospatial Commission will draw on public and private sector expertise to develop a strategy for releasing more of the location data that is currently held by HM Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority.
The Commission will attempt to improve the links between and quality of the data held by the agencies and bring together and make it available to the public and private sector. The Commission will also aim to make more geospatial data available for free (without restriction), set regulations and policy for public geospatial data, hold the individual bodies to account for delivery against the geospatial strategy, and provide strategic leadership.
The first stage of the 2 year strategy is to find a way to give small businesses free access to OS MasterMap® data.
What Is OS MasterMap®?
The OS MasterMap® is the database that records every fixed feature of Great Britain larger than a few metres in one continuous digital map. The map has different layers e.g. the Greenspace Layer (showing accessible and non-accessible green-spaces in urban areas – used to improve health and environment initiatives), and the Topography layer (to help with decisions about assets, services, environmental risks, customers and operations).
How Will This Help?
Giving open access to OS MasterMap® (for small businesses first) will remove the legal barriers that currently limit the availability of other data e.g. foreign ownership of land, locations of parking spaces, house prices or business addresses. This will then give businesses access to the kind of data that is essential to understanding and tackling housing and transport challenges. More data about an area can make it easier to find land for house-building, and enable the development of services that improve vital infrastructure, and can help businesses to make better, more informed decisions about projects.
Opening up access to government-held geospatial data could, therefore, stimulate innovation in the wider economy, boost jobs and make savings, as well as transforming information delivery and citizen engagement.
Example From Housing
The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis, particularly in social housing. Decades of failure to build enough new homes means that the UK is struggling to accommodate its growing population. The relatively small number of homes that are being built are generally not suitable for first time or low-income buyers, or the rental market.
It is thought that geospatial data could be used to accurately, and remotely survey sites with information instantly available to virtually design houses bespoke to customer needs e.g. using prefabricated housing factories across the UK. The geospatial data could help quality factory built houses to be delivered right-first-time, on time and to budget.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Opening up the many layers of government data and linking it to highly detailed digital maps can give businesses, particularly those involved with housing and infrastructure, the knowledge and tools to innovate, save money, and find new business opportunities.
A boost for the housing market is good news for the economy, and if (as the government suggests) that the wider economy will get a boost from the work of and the investment in the new Geospatial Commission, then this is good news for all businesses.
Since small businesses account for 99.3% of all private sector businesses, and SMEs account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK (FSB), opening up the OS MasterMap® to small businesses seems a sensible first move in the Commission’s strategy.