… more from Ordnance Survey

June 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm 1 comment

I’ve just had another reply from Ordnance Survey, which I think, due to its clarity, draws a line under something – namely councils publishing the OS public toilet point data as OpenData, even though the council know where their toilets are, and, indeed, put them there in the first place.

(unless you choose a different interpretation of the licence, which is none of my business.).

I’ve published their response first, as it’s more interesting. My email that they’re responding to is afterwards, and a little grumpier than I care for.

From OS:

Dear Gail

At this stage we have no plans for incorporating Points of Interest and/or toilet locations into our OS OpenData suite, but never-the-less I think there are a number of options open to you and local authorities. The Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) has a number of licensing mechanisms within it that are designed to support local authorities in their business.

Provision of a view of the data by the local authority, showing where public toilets are, is covered by the PSMA.

Provision of the data can be facilitated to an end user organisation through either a Contractor Licence or an End User licence. This would not enable commercial use or use in any way other than to support the authority’s core business

If neither of these are suitable an authority could go through the PSMA Exemption process, which would seek to determine whether the data can be released under “Free to use” terms – which would broadly support most activity (but not always commercial). The exemption process looks at the data against a variety of criteria. One, for example is “public good” which would clearly be the case here. Another is competing with Ordnance Survey or its Partners and here there would be competition with the Public Toilet category in our Point of Interest Dataset and the data in our OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 product.

In all these cases any 3rd party intellectual property would need to be correctly licensed. For example if a toilet had a Royal Mail postal address (if it was in a building for example) then Royal Mail may require a licence to be in place.

Of course another route, perhaps one that would be the most rapid and least onerous, without any restrictions on commercial re-use, would be to take out a commercial licence for the public conveniences contained within either Points of Interest dataset or our OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 dataset which also contains public conveniences as part of Objects without Postal Address (OWPA).

Points of Interest data is available for an annual fee and our channel Partners are able to licence by Class. Public Toilets are a class and there are some 12 000 in the dataset. Rates will be available for use on a website provided the use does not exceed fifty (50) million sessions. On the other hand, OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 is available under a transaction model.

If you wish to explore the commercial route further, please let me know and I will ensure that the two datasets and licensing implications are explained to you in more detail. You may also wish to review the specification on our website to determine which dataset might be most suitable for your requirements.



I hope this gives you a few avenues to explore.


We’re not going to license the data. That would only allow us to use it, which is silly as we’re just researchers and our project ends in January (we’ve gained a bit more funding from the beautiful and intelligent Royal College of Art – our initial funding ends this October). We wouldn’t have time to do anything with it.

We want data to be open so that anyone – designers, developers, communities – can create things that are truly useful – more so than a simple toilet map.

So short of begging, which I’ve pretty much done, I might have to give up.

Goodbye Ordnance Survey;

Hello… OpenStreetMap?


My original e-mail:

I hope I thanked you for your reply on 1st April, but suspect I might not have, because I first wanted to mull it over and looking for a second opinion on it via a couple of helpful GIS managers. This took longer than expected, so a belated Thanks.

Although we share the same belief about the importance of public toilet data and the benefits that this could bring, I’m a bit confused as I still can’t see any way that the PSMA helps this, even though you cited public toilet mapping as one of the inspirations for its creation.

As you mentioned in your email, the one development in this area on the part of OS is the creation of OS OpenData products  – maps where councils (and indeed anyone) can plot toilets onto OS maps, and reuse this data.

Whilst this is great (and I’m using these OS products myself, via my developers, for our own map of councils with public toilet open data) – it doesn’t help the councils to publish their lat/long positions anymore than if they were to replot their toilets on Google Maps as some are already doing – i.e. they still have to replot everything, and do it via local knowledge rather than copying the GIS information (impossible to check, but still, technically outside of the licence). Also, this isn’t related to the PSMA.

I know that I’m asking the world, but would it be possible to publish OS public toilet data, part of the Point X dataset, as open data?

or – would it be possible to include public toilets on the next release of the StreetView map? (i.e. the OpenSource one)

or finally – here is an argument put forward by a GIS manager that relates to the PSMA:

“the other option and I don’t know how feasible this may be (I’m thinking on the low side) is that a claim is put forward that objects, such as public toilets can be deemed as free data on a national level. OS have in place an exemption process as part of the PSMA and if possible an organisation within the PSMA can put forward a case that their dataset is actually exempt from being classed as derived from the OS Mapping.

To give an example, one authority is claiming that their rights of way should not be restricted to OS Copyright. I believe that Natural England have entered this process for Nature Reserves and English Heritage are doing the same for Conservation Areas.

If successful they become datasets that are free to use from OS restrictions, whether this can be applied to public conveniences or not I do not know. I imagine an argument could be that all local authorities would have planned the location of such facilities and so had the first collection of the data, but as it was never on a map as a collection I do not know how that would fare as an argument.

You can probably sense that we’re low on hope, however I’m clinging to OS’s enthusiasm for a toilet map, in the belief that as an organisation you’ll be able to identify any opportunities to get around this problem, should they exist.

kind regards,

(p.s. in the spirit of transparency, I’ve been blogging about OS and toilet data, firstly here and laterly here. Apologies for any excessive sarcasm :) )



Entry filed under: Open Data. Tags: , , , .

… more Open Data Councils … Not So Public Toilets

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