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Open data can be a headache. Ownership of data isn't straightforward, and if datasets include data under a third-party licence then it can be difficult to separate out what can and can't be published. Also, data that an organisation may consider themselves to own may be derived from third party data.

In local government, a block to open data publishing is Ordnance Survey (OS) licensing restrictions. For example, a local Council will create planning datasets which include point and polygon data (the points and boundaries on a map that the planning application refers to). Even though this data will have been created by the local authority, it will have been done so with the aid of licensed data and mapping tools. So even though those planning applications are public information, and made available for anyone to view, a lot of the most important information about them is derived and cannot be made open to use.

For a confusing read, the Sharing derived data section of the OS website describes examples of what can and can't be shared.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that stress and headaches can be treated by colouring books. Perhaps under the knowledge that their licensing restrictions can be stresful, the OS have released a series of colouring-in maps.

The OS only supply a few cities though; it would be nice to be able to create maps for any area of the UK. One area in which the OS have released recent open data, is their Open Maps Local product, allowing anyone to use certain map layers for any purpose.

Download the data

Follow the links through the OS site to download the open data. It involves selecting which National Grid reference squares you wish to download (e.g. ST), and some brief registration data as the link to download will be sent by email.

The download comes in a zipped up package with the following structure:

The data is in ESRI Shapefile data format. A link to a guide for this data is given at the following location:

OS Open Map Getting Started

There are many GIS tools that will open shapefiles - ESRI's ArcGIS Desktop, Pitney Bowes' MapInfo, but the open source option is QGIS, a fully featured and free GIS tool.

Open in QGIS

The data folder from the OS looks full of files, and it can be daunting trying to figure out what needs to be opened. For example:

In the case above, those 4 files are related to a single layer - the .shp file being the one to be opened in QGIS.

On loading QGIS Desktop, from the menu select Add vector layer either from the left toolbar, or the Layer > Add Layer menu. To locate the source file browse to one of the .shp files from the data directory.

To get a decent map it can be enough just to load the following layers:

There are then options that may be useful depending on the particular map area such as railways lines, stations, tidal water, roundabouts, etc.

Style the map

Style each individual layer by right clicking the layer name in the layer pane window and selecting properties. From there, style details can be customised such as:

After a little tweaking a map suitable for colouring in can be created (no fill colours and suitable spacing between lines). It can be useful to use differing light pattern fills (e.g. spots, dashed lines, etc) for buildings, woodland, and water.

Print or save as image

To export QGIS has the Print Composer tool. Selecting Project > New Print Composer will launch the tool, the current map can then be loaded into the print view by selecting Layout > Add map. This then gives a selection tool to design the map area on the printed page (can be full screen for plain images).

More details on using the print composer tool are given at the QGIS tutorials and tips site:

Making a map - from part 7

The result (with questionable colours), printed out onto A5 can serve as a colouring exercise over coffee, and may double as a postcard.

Colouring in
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