Planning apps ‘stymied by Ordnance Survey open data rules’

Ordnance Survey data licensing rules are preventing the exploitation of local authorities planning application information to create detailed maps of new development, according to a council digital leader.

Robert Steele, digital platform manager at Surrey County Council, is part of the team that created the county’s Planning Hub – which  allows access to planning applications harvested from authorities in Surrey County via a consistent API.

But he says that fuller uses of the data are being prevented because the Ordnance Survey will not allow commercial use of its property address data on which the system relies.

In a blog post on the Open Data Institute website, Steele said: “The ‘transaction cost’ created by complex licensing and derived data rights costs the public sector time and money. Time and money that could be spent building better public services.

“We simply want to publish planning data – information about what is going on, when and where – so anyone can see and use it for any purpose.

“At the moment we are being told that we can’t release this information because the detailed data within it – such as addresses and map coordinates – create a substantial risk to OS commercial operations.”

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Last year, James Rutter GI manager for Surrey Heath Borough Council – another of the brains behind the hub – said that the Ordnance Survey was refusing permission for the open publication of its Unique Property Reference Codes.

He said: “The ‘open data movement’ as far as data that is remotely connected to the Ordnance Survey is caught in high level wranglings between the Shareholder Executive and the Treasury at one end (who are desperate to hold onto the income streams from heavily licensed data) and pressure from various bodies like the Open Data Institute, the Cabinet Office and the Open Data Users Group and some local government activists at the other.”

Steele said that Surrey Council has created a survey to gain views on the potential benefits of releasing planning application data as full open data.

He said: “Planning is a popular and important topic that impacts the whole country from society to business to public services.

“Surely we ought to be using data to help bring transparency, innovation and ultimately solutions to some of these issues. At the moment, though, our planning data is locked up behind restrictive licensing.”

Colin Marrs

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