Anger over joint BEIS and Ordnance Survey mapping project

Written by Jim Dunton on 11 July 2017 in News
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Open-spaces campaign group says just-launched database falls short of Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto pledge

St James's Park in London Credit: Pixabay

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy-funded project to map the nation’s green spaces on a freely-accessible database has been criticised by campaigners for failing to distinguish between genuinely open land and fenced-off private property.

The greenspace mapping project, delivered by Ordnance Survey, was launched yesterday by universities and science minister Jo Johnson and OS strategic development director Philip Wyndham.

BEIS described the database as a “rich source of information on the location and extent of greenspaces up and down the country” that would “help tackle health and environmental issues”.


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But the Open Spaces Society said the database failed to deliver on the Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto pledge to “‘make it easier to access our beautiful landscapes, by providing free, comprehensive maps of all open-access green space”.

The group, which campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, said the database did not discriminate between public open spaces and land used exclusively for private recreation.  

It said public and private golf courses were both shown as accessible greenspace, as were allotments, private school recreation grounds and private sports facilities such as bowling greens.

Campaign group case officer Hugh Craddock  said that while progress towards making open space more visible, accessible and attractive was welcome, the new database was more “more likely to confuse than clarify”.  

“The data will show a golf course on common land with a statutory right of access in the same way as an exclusive, private golf course – but the latter might be accessible only to members or on payment of a £150 green fee,” he said.

“Many other areas of greenspace are also inaccessible to the public – allotments, private school playing fields and private sports facilities – but these too are mapped with no indication of whether the public can use them, and if so, on what terms.”

Craddock said the database also ignored most of the nation’s truly open access greenspace: extensive areas of open country and common land to which there was a right of access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

“The Ordnance Survey and the project sponsor, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, should immediately commit to work with stakeholders to refine the data and publish a database of truly accessible land in Great Britain,” he said.

BEIS said the comprehensive maps of green space would provide a hugely valuable resource to the public and public sector organisations who managed those important spaces. 

“As well as providing information about access points to these sites, this rich dataset will provide a framework that will support a wide variety of analysis on our greenspaces to ensure they continue to prosper,” it said.

OS said its OS Greenspace datasets and OS Maps layer had been released as alpha versions in the hope that people would experiment and work with the data to create new products and services that helped the UK become a more active nation.

“The dataset shows the extent of greenspaces, including sporting facilities, and aims to encourage people to participate in leisure activities at these locations,” it said.

“It is true that public access to these will be variable, so as with other sports sites there is a need for people to check use and access conditions first.”

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