Dear Geoplace LLP,
I understand that you do not consider yourself a Public Authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), but that you may voluntarily comply with their provisions anyway.
So, under EIR (whether it formally applies to you or not), would you consider providing me with a copy of the records in the National Street Gazetteer that pertain to Public Rights of Way (i.e. Public Footpaths, Public Bridleways, Restricted Byways, and Byways Open to All Traffic)?
(I understand that using the normal highway records in the NSG requires an appropriate licence from OS. However, OS are happy for digitised Public Rights of Way data from local authorities to be re-licensed as Derived Data under their "Presumption to Publish" approach. So while I may need to obtain separate permission from each Authority to be able to re-use the data I'm requesting, there should be no barrier here due to the lack of an OS Licence.)
Thank you for your email re: Freedom of Information request - Public Rights of Way Data. This has been logged in our system with reference number 00604566. This is an automated response to inform you that this has been assigned to Stella Loftus who will contact you shortly.
If you wish to add or update any details relating to this case please reply to this email, or send a new email to [email address] to log a new case.
The Helpdesk Team
Freedom of Information Act 2000 - INFORMATION REQUEST
Thank you for your request for information about public rights of way.
Your request was received on 16th March 2016 and I am dealing with it under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and will get a response to your request within 20 working days.
In order to help us respond to your query I have been asked to obtain some more information just to clarify your request.
What data is it that you are requesting, are you seeking geometry or some sort of attribution data. Are you seeking just PROW, or a larger path/road network?
Dear Stella Loftus,
Thanks for getting back to me. In response to your queries:
I'm just interested in the four classes of Public Rights of Way.
Ideally I would like the geometry of each route, together with its authority (council), classification (footpath, bridleway, restricted byway, BOAT) and name (typically parish and number). If there are fields that give information about accuracy and/or a last modified date for each route, those would be of interest too.
Many thanks for the additional information, I will pass this on to my colleagues and provide a response to you once this has been reviewed.
I just wanted to let you know we are still investigating your query and will get a response to you by 21st April.
First, as you are already aware, GeoPlace is not subject to Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) or the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), but has taken a policy decision voluntarily to comply with both.
Your request of 16 March 2016, subsequently clarified on 23 March 2016, is made under the EIR. GeoPlace’s view is that, in this case, the data is not environmental information under the EIR. This is because environmental information under the EIR is primarily concerned with the state of, or effects upon, the environment; the data requested does not indicate either. Therefore, we have instead considered your request under the provisions of the FOIA.
You have requested records in the National Street Gazetteer relating to: “four classes of Public Rights of Way. Ideally I would like the geometry of each route, together with its authority (council), classification (footpath, bridleway, restricted byway, BOAT) and name (typically parish and number). If there are fields that give information about accuracy and/or a last modified date for each route, those would be of interest too.”
We can confirm that we hold this information, although note that our records of Public Rights of Way are not comprehensive, in that they only cover a small proportion of the total number of Public Rights of Way as we are in the process of collecting this from local authorities. In relation to the information that we do hold, we consider that it is exempt from disclosure under sections 21 and 43 of the FOIA (as detailed below), and as a result we will not be providing it. We also consider that the information is also potentially exempt under section 22 (Information intended for future publication).
Section 21 – Information accessible by other means
The information is accessible by you from individual local authorities. Alternatively, the Public Rights of Way (although not the attribution) will be available under commercial licence from Ordnance Survey, in its 25k and 50k raster products.
Section 43 – Commercial interests
The information is exempt under section 43(2), as its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of GeoPlace and Ordnance Survey.
Section 43(2) is a qualified exemption and we are required to consider whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Ordnance Survey is a wholly owned Government company; like other companies, it is required to generate revenue from its commercial activities in order to fund its operations (including, in Ordnance Survey’s case, its public task). GeoPlace is a limited liability partnership, jointly owned by Ordnance Survey and local government.
We do recognise the requirement for transparency, and the public interest in access to GeoPlace and Ordnance Survey’s mapping data. However, this has to be balanced against the public interest in allowing OS to protect its commercial interests (so that it is not disadvantaged in comparison to organisations which are not subject to the FOIA) such that it can continue to fulfil its public task and deliver its obligation to HM Government to operate on a commercial, self-financing basis.
Head of Engagement, GeoPlace LLP
Many thanks for your response. I realise that you are not currently formally subject to FOI or EIR, but I would ask that you reconsider your refusal here. In particular, I do not feel it is appropriate to rely on the exemptions you have cited, and even if you could, I believe that it would be in the interests of your Local Government owners for you to provide the information anyway.
With regard to your claim that the request should be dealt with under FOI rather than EIR, I believe this to be incorrect. The ICO has consistently ruled that requests for information relating to the public's access to the countryside fall under EIR.
FOI Section 21 (or the EIR equivalent) cannot be said to apply to all the information. While the Council's could all be asked for the information (under EIR), I don't know of any that make their NSG submissions publicly available over the internet, and some council's are actively trying to prevent having to release their Rights of Way information. The information I am requesting is the digitised vector information, which is not available thought the OS raster products. Technically the information is available to me by inspection, since each contributing local authority is required to allow public inspection of their NSG submissions. However, I do not feel that it would be reasonable to expect me to visit each council's office's in turn in order to view the information.
FOI Section 43 (or the EIR equivalent) does not apply. In respect of Ordnance Survey, the vector Public Rights of Way data falls within the classes of data that OS are happy for local councils to release as OpenData under the Open Government Licence. This demonstrates that they have no commercial interest in restricting access to the information. Also, since the information is legally available for inspection by any member of the public, I do not see how releasing another copy of it could significantly harm Geoplace's commercial interests.
Finally, I note that Geoplace is 50% owned by the Local Government Association. It would be helpful to have in mind the interests of the members of the LGA when deciding on this request. By releasing all the Rights of Way information in one go, you would be saving the LGA members the trouble of having to respond to individual FOI/EIR requests and then have to make arrangements to supply the information and provide updated versions on an ongoing basis, as required under FOIA s19(2A).
I have attached a copy of Steven Brandwood's response on behalf of GeoPlace for your attention.
This case will now be closed. Please reply to this email if you have any follow on questions or wish for this case to be re-opened. Do not hesitate to give me a call if you would like to talk this issue through.
If you wish to raise a new query then please send a new email to [email address]
Thank you kindly
Deputy Gazetteers Manager on behalf of Steven Brandwood
157-197 Buckingham Palace Road
London, SW1W 9SP
020 7630 4600
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing in connection with FOI case number 00604566. I note your response to my internal review request, which is available online at https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p... . Having studied your response, I would like to ask you to reconsider, as I believe that your arguments are either incorrect or based on false assumptions.
As you say, the exemption is about information rather than its form. However, I am specifically asking for Rights of Way information contained in the NSG contributions. This set of information is distinct from the dataset of actual Public Rights of Way, and from the dataset of what Ordnance survey show as Rights of Way on their maps. The Rights of Way rendered on OS maps are not the same dataset as those submitted to you for the NSG by the councils. The OS Maps may contain errors and omissions, and will certainly not be as up to date regarding modifications to the Rights of Way network. Moreover, the NSG vector data contains precise coordinates of points demarcating each right of way. Even if the OS maps were rendering the same underlying data, it would not be possible to recover the precise coordinates available in the NSG data. The OS maps are therefore only a summary of their underlying coordinate data, and not simply the same data in a different format. And this underlying coordinate data differs from the NSG Rights of Way information I am requesting.
The Information Commissioner makes this "only a summary" point clear in paragraph 20 of his Decision Notice FER0557948 (https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-tak...) where he states that the equivalent EIR exemption 6(1)(b) could not be used: "The Commissioner considers therefore that the lack of geographical detail which the complainant has described when interrogating the map is analogous to the provision of a summary of the requested information rather than the actual detailed information." Since EIR 6(1)(b) is stricter than FOIA 21(1), it follows that FOIA 21(1) cannot be applied in relation to the information being available through OS raster maps.
You are also mistaken in how FOIA Section 21 can be applied when only some of the information is available elsewhere. Section 21 can only be used to withhold those parts of the information that are wholly available elsewhere. So if the coordinate geometry part was available elsewhere, then Section 21 could be used to withhold the coordinate geometry part. Regardless of whether or not the associated meta-data can be de-tangled, you cannot use Section 21 to withhold the meta-data if the meta-data itself is not available elsewhere. If, as you say, the two cannot be de-tangled, then you would be obliged to release both parts, rather than neither.
Section 22 can only be applied if the Public Authority had a settled intention to publish the requested information at the time the request was made. If you wish to rely on this exemption, then you should provide evidence of this settled intention to publish the data, and an indication of the anticipated date of publication. You have done neither here.
Additionally, in your public interest test, you have not actually advanced any public interest arguments for maintaining the exemption, i.e. you have not explained how the public would benefit from delaying the publication. The arguments you give are simply that you don't believe there would be much public benefit from publication now, which is not the same thing at all. If there are no public interest arguments in favour of maintaining the exemption, then the balance inevitably has to lie with the public interest that you have admitted exists (however small) in disclosing the information now.
Furthermore, contrary to your arguments diminishing the public interest in favour of disclosure, in terms of making information about public Rights of Way more generally available to the public, it would be a massive help to have a single uniform dataset available, rather than having to approach each individual authority for separate datasets. This is especially true, given that the information will change on a regular basis, and so regular updates will be required. It would be a massive additional burden to have to obtain updated copies of the information from each council, convert them to a common format, and then combine the data into a single dataset, each time an update was required. In addition, not all councils currently make their Rights of Way GIS data available anyway -- so there would be direct public interest in obtaining those missing sets.
Thanks for your response, I have passed this on to my colleagues for review.
Dear Mr Whittaker,
Thank you for taking the time to present your arguments in connection to the FOI case number 00604566. Sincere apologies for the time it has taken us to respond.
We have reviewed your arguments in detail, however I am afraid that our position on your analysis remains unchanged.
As we have stated in previous correspondence, GeoPlace is not subject to Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) or the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), but has taken a policy decision voluntarily to comply with both. Since we are holding our position on your request, we do not consider it a necessity to respond in detail to your arguments.
I appreciate this is unlikely to be the response you would wish for.
Executive Director of Engagement