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Ordnance Survey consultation reaches end of line

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Public consultation on the future of some Ordnance Survey mapping data ends today, and a government spokeswoman told The Register that it will respond within the next few weeks.

The government reiterated late last year that it wanted to make certain OS products “freely available” to UK citizens.

However, that declaration stopped far short of demanding that the Royal Mail should give free access to its Postcode Address File (PAF) database.

Communities minister Ian Austin kicked off consultation on 23 December 2009. He said at the time that the government hoped to make some aspects of OS data available to be “used for digital innovation and to support democratic accountability.”

Yesterday afternoon, we asked the Communities and Local Government (CLG) office whether a response to the consultation would be provided before the General Election.

“There's no firm date yet as more needs to be finalised,” said the CLG spokeswoman. “There will be an announcement shortly, probably within the next few weeks.”

Many commentators have suggested that voters will go to the polls on 6 May, while the final date an election can be held is 3 June. It’s widely expected that Brown will call a general election after next week’s budget.

In November 2009, the PM announced government plans to grant British citizens more access to some OS data from April this year.

The Beeb wrongly interpreted that as suggesting that UK.gov was about to wrestle the PAF database from the hands of Royal Mail bosses, who pulled in £1.6m in licensing fees for the service in 2007.

However, as we reported, neither the Royal Mail - nor indeed the government - ever had any intentions of freeing up the PAF database for all comers.

The OS consultation paper simply re-affirmed that fact in December, because "the parties involved have been concerned to maintain independent revenue streams".

So what does that mean for the future of OS data?

The government has said it favours a "staged transition from the current strategy", which some might interpret as a lukewarm response that may soon prove irrelevant if the Tories fail to lose the election and form the next government.

El Reg asked Harry Metcalfe - co-founder of UK postcode lookup service, ErnestMarples.com - which was forced to shutter its operations after the Royal Mail made legal action noises against the website owners in October last year, about his expectations regarding the government’s response to the OS consultation.

“I'm still optimistic… From what I've seen, the vast majority of people are saying the right things. I still think it's a question of how and not if - but there is certainly a chance that it might not be done well. We'll just have to see, and react appropriately,” he told us.

Earlier this week UK trade group Locus Association, which represents the interests of corporations that work with public sector data, posted its response to the government's OS consultation paper, in which it raised some concerns about the proposals.

"Whatever data is released for free, if any, government must satisfy itself that Ordnance Survey is creating data and products cost effectively; any new products or product adaptations should be competed to ensure government receives value for money," it said. ®

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