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INSPIRE: The INfrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe

The Inspire Directive aims to establish a "spatial information infrastructure in Europe". Essentially, it is the stitching to bind all the geodata from each of the EU's national mapping agencies. If the directive becomes law, every house, lamp-post, phone mast, roundabout, river, mountain — you name it — will be connected with data on transport networks, names of places, postcodes, population statistics and environmental indicators.


The Proposal for a Directive establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the Community (INSPIRE), was published by the European Commission on 23 July 2004, and plans to come into force in 2006. INSPIRE aims to make interoperable spatial information readily available in support of both national and Community policy and to enable the public to access this information.

INSPIRE aims to make the data more accessible and interoperable, to solve data gaps, missing documentation, incompatible spatial data sets and services, and barriers to the sharing and reuse of spatial data.

Previously there was a lack of a formal standard or any central policy on the collection, storing and access to geographical data - so why should a set of proposals that are based on principles that appear to be largely self evident, have been so contentious, and taken so long to bring to this stage?

INSPIRE is based on the belief that good quality harmonised geographic information is needed for good governance across Europe. The principles of INSPIRE are that geographical information should be collected once and maintained at the appropriate level, should be seamless, should be shared, should be available on terms that do not constrain its use, should be easy to find and assess, and should be presented in an understandable visual form.

The problem has been the terms under which the public can gain access to the data. One group think that data created by the public sector should be usable by the general public at no or minimal cost. The government agencies that have been involved in collecting this data historically say they will only agree if they can guarantee that they will cover their costs. Also private sector firms that work in this area are objecting because they say they will face government sponsored competition which they could not afford to compete against - street mapping firms have been particularly active in their lobbying.

In addition, there is the question of what data should be collected. During the consultation period every response asked for different types of data and it was not economically feasible to collect all the data that was asked for by every respondent.

The five principles referred to in the Internet consultation paper are:

  • Data should be collected once and maintained at the level where this can be done most effectively.
  • It must be possible to combine seamlessly spatial data from different sources across the EU and share it between many users and applications.
  • It must be possible for spatial data collected at one level of government to be shared between all levels of government.
  • Spatial data needed for good governance should be available on conditions that are not restricting its extensive use.
  • It should be easy to discover which spatial data is available, to evaluate its fitness for purpose and to know which conditions apply for its use.

The five obstacles referred to in the Internet consultation paper are:

  • Gaps in spatial data
  • Lacking documentation
  • Spatial data sets not compatible
  • Incompatible geographic information systems
  • Barriers to sharing and re-use.

DEFRA is the lead government organisation in the UK for INSPIRE.


Most of this is from Public Geo Data.

Will there be any charges for public use of this data?

If so how much and under what terms and conditions?

The directive in its current form calls for affordable data and transparent pricing.

The INSPIRE Directive is going through second reading in the European Parliament now. As INSPIRE's wording has been changed as it passes through the legislative process, it has moved steadily towards a policy stance based on intellectual property rights held over publicly funded geodata by the state agencies that collect it.

Public Geo Data say

On 23 January 2006, the Council of European Union has formally adopted a common position on the Inspire Directive, which stipulates that Geographic Data collected by National Mapping Agencies all over Europe should be owned by such agencies and not by the Public. While a lot of datasets are available in the United States under a public domain licence, little geographic data is available under open access terms in Europe but is instead made available at monopoly prices by national mapping agencies. Restricted access to geographic data for the public and businesses due to high costs and narrow licenses means fewer services and fewer jobs in Europe.
If the European Parliament does not adequately amend or, failing that, reject this directive proposal, INSPIRE will entrench a policy of charging citizens for information they have already paid to collect, enforced by state copyright over geographic information.

Public Geo Data has an Open Letter and a public petition to amend or reject INSPIRE.

INSPIRE also specifies a set of implementing rules that member states MUST follow, except INSPIRE doesn't describe these implementing rules - it just says that Member States will be obliged to follow them once they are decided upon. Given that the National mapping agencies have significant vested interests in applying copyright to their geospatial data, and have influence in parliament, this is a potentially worrying aspect of the directive.

Over time INSPIRE has changed its emphasis on licensing and copyright, even for viewing of data, and the essential data sets that its meant to cover have slowly been dropping away.



Public Geo Data believe that state-collected geodata should be openly available to citizens.

DEFRA is the lead government organisation in UK for INSPIRE

EUROGI the umbrella organisation for GI user associations in Europe

EuroGeographics the trade body that ties together mapping agencies in Europe

EC-GIS Active in holding conferences on Inspire

European Commission Team

Britain's Association for Geographic Information


ROBERT BARR is the director of the Regional Research Laboratory of the University of Manchester and past Council chairman of Britain's Association for Geographic Information

Chris Corbin very active on this issue belongs to EUROGI.

Tim Berners-Lee calling for Public Geodata



2006-11-23 - eGov Monitor - European Parliament and Council reach agreement on spatial information directive
Summary: The European Parliament and Council reached agreement last night on the contents of the proposed INSPIRE Directive, which aims to harmonise spatial information across Europe.
2006-11-22 - Free Our Data - Inspire decision
Summary: The European parliament and council of ministers have finally agreed a compromise wording to the Inspire directive designed to harmonise spatial information around Europe. The directive had become a cause celebre in the movement to make public sector data freely available. Broadly, the European parliament backed our position, while the council of ministers was opposed.
2006-11-01 - The Guardian - Free Our Data: November 21 looks like a key date
Author: Charles Arthur
Summary: Perhaps you've noticed the Free Our Data campaign that's been running in the Technology section since March. And now, here's a key date: November 21, when the European Parliament will decide whether to pass the Inspire directive, which mandates that government agencies should make their data available for free to each other. That's got the Ordnance Survey rather upset.
2006-07-27 - The Guardian - UK fights against tide on data directive
Author: Michael Cross
Summary: A Europe-wide project to harmonise access to geographical data is at risk due to Britain's support for state-owned agencies.
2006-03-30 - The Guardian - Why a £5m mapping project had to double up on data
Author: Charles Arthur
Summary: Explained why the restrictive data practices of the Environment Agency and Ordnance Survey cost Norwich Union £5m when it decided to draw up a map to assess flood risks a few years ago. Did the Environment Agency have the data Norwich Union needed? It did. Would it make it available? Ah, that’s a different question. Which meant that Norwich Union spent £5m (which has to come out of its customers’ pockets, in the end) to create a brand new flood map - essentially duplicating the work that already existed.
2006-03-23 - The Guardian - Ordnance Survey challenged to open up
Author: SA Mathieson and Michael Cross
Summary: The inventor of the world wide web has called for more open access to Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping data - and may get his wish later this year. Sir Tim Berners-Lee told an Oxford University audience last week getting "basic, raw data from Ordnance Survey" online would help build the "semantic web", which he defines as a web of data using standard formats so that relevant data can be found and processed by computers.
2006-03-17 - BoingBoing - Europe seeking to make open mapping impossible - help!
Author: Cory Doctorow
Summary:Your help is needed to fight a move that could see all the geographic information in Europe locked away and available only to well-heeled corporations, but not to activists, non-profits, individuals and startups. The EU's INSPIRE directive is supposed to harmonize the way that European mapping agencies share their geo-data, but the process has been hijacked. Now it looks more like a proprietary, restrictive, monopoly pricing policy that guts open access.
2006-03-16 - The Guardian - What price information?
Author: Charles Arthur and Michael Cross
Summary: But there are moves afoot within the European Union to entrench the concept that geographical data, in particular, should become the "property" of the government mapping agencies by which it is collected, and that they should be able to charge uncapped amounts for providing it to citizens. Known as the Inspire Directive, the scheme has already garnered a campaign site opposing it, at
2006-03-09 - The Guardian - Give us back our crown jewels
Author: Charles Arthur & Michael Cross
Summary: Our taxes fund the collection of public data - yet we pay again to access it. It should be made freely available to stimulate innovation.
2005-04-07 - The Guardian - Get mapping
Author: Sean Dodson
Summary: As map-making becomes big business, citizen cartographers are creating free personal alternatives. In February, Google unfurled its latest big idea: an online map of the entire surface of the United States and Canada that you can search. ... The Inspire Directive, adopted by the European Commission in July, aims to establish a "spatial information infrastructure in Europe".