Faith Clark 03 December 2018

Putting data to work

In April 2018, Bluesky and Getmapping agreed to extend the existing Aerial Photography for Great Britain (APGB) contract with the Cabinet Office, with the Geospatial Commission playing a central role. In a first for Great Britain, the contract now provides free at the point of use access to imagery and height data for more than 4,500 public sector organisations including all local authorities in England and Wales.

Under the new contract eligible organisations - once registered on - can download data from a specifically developed online mapping portal, receive data via a secure Web Mapping Service (WMS) feed or take delivery on traditional storage media such as hard drive or memory stick.

Data, data everywhere

Data covered by the enhanced APGB contract includes 12.5cm and 25cm resolution, full colour, true orthorectified, accurate aerial photography, which is fully compatible with OS MasterMap. There is currently nationwide coverage of aerial photography at 25cm with around 60% covered at the higher 12.5cm resolution. Complete Colour Infrared imagery (CIR) cover, captured at the same time as the aerial photography, can also provide a useful insight into health and state of vegetation, and facilitate studies into particular types of land-use.

A grid of heighted points at both five metre Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and two metre Digital Surface Model (DSM) forms the 3D element of the contract. A DTM is a bare earth model detailing the terrain or physical landscape while a DSM includes measurements of surface features including buildings and vegetation. Both are photogrammetrically derived, produced to the OSGB projection as standard and offer high levels of detail and accuracy.

Putting APGB data to work

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council is a long-term user of aerial photography with regular, bi-annual surveys dating back to the mid 1990’s. Dudley Council makes its current aerial photography holding, a 12.5cm resolution dataset captured together with CIR imagery in 2016 available, on its corporate intranet GIS as well as on its public facing website and within Dudley schools. This data now forms part of the APGB contract offering.

Aerial photography is a firmly recognised key resource within the corporate (intranet) GIS as it offers so much more insight than OS mapping. Not only can it be deemed more intuitive to users when trying to locate a specific property or feature but it also supports a wide range of uses within legal & property, development control, arbor and grounds maintenance, environmental protection, geotechnics, emergency & contingency planning and gazetteer management to name just a few,' said Robert Oldnall, information systems (GMIS) unit manager within the Digital and ICT Services department of Dudley Council.

'Aerial photography will play a key role supporting a channel shift within the new Digital Platform here at Dudley, providing citizens with the backdrop upon which to accurately ‘pin’ the location of incidents and reports,” he continued.

'The APGB contract undoubtedly provides local authorities with a very welcome source of key data during a period of increasingly diminishing budgets.'

Corporate systems manager at Braintree District Council, Dean Fisk, also welcomed the announcement of the scope and content of the new APGB contract. Another long-term user of aerial imagery, Braintree purchased its first digital aerial photography dataset back in 2010 working alongside other council’s in the Essex area as part of the Essex Online Partnership, prior to this the council held hard copy prints refreshed on a 10 year cycle.

Its current data, which is now covered by the APGB contract, is made available to all staff across the council via an internal Mapviewer system with more advanced users accessing the imagery through the council’s ArcGIS. The data is used regularly by staff within planning for communication and enforcement as well as by users in leisure services, arboriculture and development control.

Other feedback from local government users has included: ‘We’ve waited for this for years’ and ‘I cannot adequately express the positive impact this will bring to our organisation’.

Moving forward

The APGB contract has received a positive reaction so far with over 650 members already accessing the data. This still only represents around 10% of eligible organisations that are benefiting from free to access, free to use data that could transform decision making and service delivery across their business.

Ralph Coleman, sales director at Bluesky added: 'It is still early days for the contract and we, the Getmapping and Bluesky Consortium with support from the Commission, are working hard to raise the awareness of the availability of this free at the point of use data and encourage further take-up of the data by those that are currently missing out on its wide ranging benefits.'

During the 2018 flying season, the Getmapping and Bluesky Consortium captured over 96,000 square kilometres of new data representing well over a third of the UK’s land area, covering areas from the far south of England in Devon and Kent, to the far north of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides and Inverness. Flying plans for 2019 are currently underway and the 2019 flying season will start on 1st April 2019.

Geospatial data sits at the heart of solving problems. Problems that affect us globally and problems that affect us locally. At the heart of solutions to these problems is information. Without good information, good solutions will be much harder to find. Geospatial data, service and solutions help provide this information.

Visit for more information.

Faith Clark is an expert in marketing communications with specialist knowledge of geographic information and systems, mapping and the use of technology in the public and private sectors.

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