Alpha: Asking your council for mapping data

(also applies to other public bodies)

This is draft document. It’s open for comments until 31 March 2018. Though I worked with Ordnance Survey to develop it, this is not and will never be official Ordnance Survey guidance. This post explains more about the background.

What this document is about who it is for

Ordnance Survey (OS) provides maps and geographic data to local councils and other public bodies to use in the course of their work.

Under certain circumstances your council (or another public body) could choose to share this mapping data with your group or organisation.

If your council creates its own maps or geographic data while using OS data this is usually referred to as “derived data”.

There are rules that govern whether public bodies publish or share this derived data.

If you want to ask your local council (or some other public body) to publish or share their data with you it might be helpful to understand the rules. The rules are published on the OS website. The OS wrote the rules for the mapping specialists in your local council or other public body and so they use technical language.

This document provides a plainer English explanation for people who are not mapping specialists.

When we wrote this we were thinking of two sorts of people:

  1. Citizens working on local neighbourhood plans (something that happens in England). They need to understand the rules relating to derived data because they often ask their council for mapping information. They need to understand how their council is interpreting the agreement it has with Ordnance Survey if it refuses to let them use things like maps showing land allocations.
  2. Other workers in the council (for example a digital services manager). They need to understand OS’ derived data rules so they understand if the mapping specialists in their council are interpreting the agreement they have with OS correctly.

Access by public sector bodies to OS Data

OS collects a wide variety of information. The OS doesn’t actually own the information it collects. The information is owned by the Crown (the Queen). The OS has the exclusive right to use, manage and decide who else can use this information. The OS lets people and organisations use the information under different ‘licences’.

OS lets your local council (and most other public sector bodies) use virtually all its mapping data. Your council (or public sector organisation) doesn’t own the OS data they receive under this agreement. They are just allowed to use it in order to do their job.

Councils and nearly every other public sector body in England and Wales can join the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (often just called PSMA). Around 4500 organisations are members. They include everything from central government departments, all local authorities down to parish and community councils.

Councils and nearly every other public sector body in Scotland can join the One Scotland Mapping Agreement (often just called OSMA). 124 organisations are members.

The full list of organisations covered by the Public Sector Mapping Agreement or One Scotland Mapping Agreement is available here.

OS does not hold mapping information for Northern Ireland and so councils and other public bodies there are not covered by this guidance.

Both agreements allow the members to use OS data for anything they need to do to deliver their services to the public.

Derived data: when public bodies make their own data based on OS information

Just doing what they have to do every day will lead public bodies to produce new information. When the new information this created using OS maps or geographic information it is called “derived data”.

Your council probably regularly creates this sort of derived data when they use:

  • features on the OS digital map, for example, shapes or lines that depict just the buildings or just the roads (for example when the council plans gritting routes, it will draw them on an OS map)
  • information in the map data (usually referred to as “attribution”) that gives further insight into the nature of those features, for example, what it is, its area, its length (for example if a council estimates how far a bin lorry will need to travel on its route it will use the measurements on an OS map)
  • text, i.e. the names of things shown on the map, for example, “High Street”, “River Thames” or descriptions or abbreviations of unnamed things on the map (for example: if a council showed a map of proposed changes to the town centre they might include road names like “High Street” or “Church Road” derived from OS data).

Derived data is information that has been created based on existing data or information.

A typical example

If your council was thinking of changing its planning policy to allow people to build houses in an area of the borough, the planners would draw around the fields and streets involved on a map. This would give them a shape which they might give a name to like “Proposed housing allocation site A3”. These days they would use digital maps and the drawing would be digital too.

In this example, OS considers the “Proposed housing allocation site A3” shape to be derived data, because, even though the council’s employees drew it, they used OS digital maps to draw it.

Using mapping information yourself or for your community

You council does not have to share mapping data with you. It is your council’s decision whether it wants to share or publish information. It is also up to the council how it wants to do that. If the council wants to share or publish OS data or data derived from OS data it must follow the terms of the PSMA in England and Wales or OSMA in Scotland.

Your council can share any OS data with you if it will help the council deliver its public services. It can also share derived data based on OS information with you if it will help the council deliver its public services. It has to share it with you for a specific reason and you can only use it for that reason (so if the council lets you use mapping information to create your neighbourhood plan, you can’t use that information to plan a street festival without their permission). The same rules apply to any other public body.

Your council doesn’t need to ask OS for permission to do this. As part of the public sector agreements (PSMA and OSMA) OS allows public bodies to share OS information and derived data based on OS information under the “Public Sector End User Licence”.

This is the licence that, for example, many councils use to allow people to respond to planning applications using OS data. It could be used, in principle, to help neighbourhood planning groups develop and consult on their proposals or in a whole host of other circumstances.

Publishing mapping information so anyone can use it

OS publishes some of its data as “open data” that anyone can use.

But public bodies like your local council are not allowed to publish OS information so that everyone can use it (they have to give people specific licences for specific uses).

They can publish their own information even if it was derived from OS data under certain circumstances.

The key criteria are:

  • The public body must publish the derived data under the Open Government Licence. The Open Government Licence is an agreement with anyone who uses the data that they may use it for any purpose (including for commercial purposes) as long as they acknowledge the source of the data.
  • They are encouraged to list the derived data on the website or on the Scottish Government Spatial Data Infrastructure website or the Welsh Government portal “Lle”.
  • The derived data must be released in a way that means members of the public cannot access OS’ mapping information that the public body used to create the derived data. For example if the council wants to publish a map of gritting routes under an open licence, it must make sure the map of the roads it used are not included.
  • The fact that OS data was used to produce it must be acknowledged.
  • It must not “substantially copy” OS data.
  • It includes additional information that relates to the original purpose behind its creation, i.e. things added to the base mapping by the public body
  • The public body does not use OS data to set up in competition with OS or its partners.
  • It must have been created by the public body as part of the delivery of their core business activity, i.e. delivering their public services.
  • The public body informs OS about what derived data they have released under “Presumption to Publish”

The vast majority of derived data based on OS information can just be published by public bodies under this ‘presumption to publish’.

If they are not sure public bodies can request a more formal review with an exemption request with OS deciding how it may be released. OS also reserves the right to call in any derived data released under “Presumption to Publish” to assure itself that the criteria are being consistently and correctly applied.


Your council and almost every other public sector organisation in England, Scotland and Wales can share OS data and derived data based on OS information with you and your community if it will help them deliver their services. If they do this you can only use the data to help deliver that particular service.

Your council and almost every other public sector organisation in England, Scotland and Wales can publish derived data based on OS information so that anyone can use it for any purpose so long as they meet a set of checks.

OS will give your council or public sector body advice if it is not sure whether a particular dataset qualifies for the presumption to publish


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