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Advice for Requesting Rights of Way GIS Data from UK Councils


With the exception of central London authorities, all UK county councils and unitary authorities are required by law to maintain a "Definitive Map" and a "Definitive Statement" describing the Public Rights of Way in their area. Details of requesting copies of, and the right to re-use, these documents can be found on my Advice for Requesting Rights of Way Documents from UK Councils page.

More recently, several councils have seen the benefit of producing an electronic or online map of their Public Rights of Way. This involves digitising their paper-based maps in order to produce an electronic data-set containing details of the routes and taken and the status of each one. It is also possible to request copies of, and the right to re-use these GIS data-sets. This page contains background information and advice for anyone who wishes to do so.

Ordnance Survey IP Rights and PSMA Exemptions

Obtaining the data and the right to re-use is complicated by the fact that the digitisation will typically have taken place using an Ordnance Survey base map. Hence the resulting data-set will contain IP rights belonging to Ordnance Survey. However, the new Public Sector Mapping Agreement that has recently been rolled out contains provisions for Ordnance Survey to grant exemptions to Public Sector bodies to allow them to release derived data-set such as this under the OS OpenData License. The procedure is laid out in section 2.5 of the PSMA Member License. Southampton and Worcestershire were two of the first councils to go through this process, and as of September 2012, over 20 councils have successfully applied to release their Public Rights of Way GIS data under in this way. The 'clear precedent' described in 2.5.2(i) has been established, which means that future requests by councils to release Public Rights of Way GIS data will be dealt with under the streamlined process described in the PSMA Member License.

For further background, see Public Rights of Way in England and Wales: more progress needed on open data release of national vector mapping, a blog post by Owen Boswarva.

Persuading a Council to Apply for a PSMA Exemption

Since the council has to make a formal application in order to be able to release the data and allow its subsequent re-use, it will require more effort from them than a similar request involving data they own themselves would. It therefore may take some effort on the part of the applicant to convince the council that going through the process is worth their while and in the public interest. Some arguments that could be used, include:

(If any readers have suggestions for further arguments to include here, then please get in touch and I'll consider adding them.)

Re-use of the Data in OpenStreetMap

The PSMA allows councils to release their Rights of Way data under the OS OpenData Licence. This license is similar to the Open Government Licence, but contains an additional attribution clause that is probably incompatible with the Open Database License (ODbL) used by OpenStreetMap. If this is the case, then we would be unable to make use of the data in OpenStreetMap. We previously had some assurances from Hampshire County Council and Ordnance Survey that it is OK for us to use Hampshire's data, but I do not think these are as legally water-tight as they could be. However, Ordnance Survey have recently stated "It the opinion of Ordnance Survey that this requirement for an acknowledgement means that the OS OpenData licence is not forward compatible with the ODC-By and ODbL." So, unfortunately, it looks like we will be unable to make use of the GIS data in OSM at least for the time being.

I have asked OSM's Licensing Working Group for their view on this issue, and there is also a pending request for OS to make their license compatible with the ODbL. For further information, see my page on the Compatibility of the OS OpenData Licence with ODbL.

Update (2015/02): Ordnance Survey has announced that they are replacing their custom OS OpenData Licence with the standard Open Government Licence (OGL) 3.0. Presumahbly this will also apply to datasets released under the PSMA exemption, but it is not yet clear if this is the case, nor how or when the change will occur. If data is released under the OGL in the future, then it will be possible to use it in OpenStreetMap.