There’s no map to look at in this blog- it’s secret!

posted in: Observations | 4

The attempts at secrecy surrounding the UK’s water supply became even more bizarre following my previous blog concerning the location of fire hydrants in the West Midlands, where making a map of fire hydrants is considered a threat to national security.

Now we have the local water utility company, Severn Trent Water, joining the West Midlands Fire Service in attempting to prevent mapping of water resources, using similar “national security ” concerns, although the phrase used by STW is “national critical infrastructure”.

As part of the current OSM UK quarterly project which is to improve mapping of any water features I thought it would be great to map the installation of the new pipeline paralleling the existing Elan Valley Aqueduct which is imaginatively named the “Birmingham Resilience Project”.

BRP is a massive  £242m  two-year civil engineering project and is designed to  provide resilience to the Edwardian aqueduct opened in 1904 which supplies Birmingham all the way from a reservoir in the Elan Valley in Wales.  This pinnacle of Edwardian engineering is  a 73 mile (117 Km) supply which requires no pumps, relying on gravity and siphons.

The Birmingham Resilience Project will provide a parallel supply for the last section of the aqueduct. It will run 16 miles (25 Km) from the River Severn at Stourport to the Frankley Reservoir to the West of Birmingham. It will be  a pumped underground pipeline. The best short online description of the project is here. There’s also an in depth presentation here  by the Head of Pipelines from the main contractor Jacobs

STW’s informative online pages about the project include a FAQ  where you can apply to look at the map of the proposed route(!)

Originally STW had published an online map showing the proposed route overlaid on an OpenData map from the Ordnance Survey (the UK’s national mapping agency). This would have made mapping it for OSM a doddle. However there was a statement on this map:
“This drawing is not to be used in whole or part other than for the intended purpose and project as defined on this drawing.  Refer to the contract for full terms and conditions.”

So I contacted STW to see if we could use the map as I couldn’t refer to the contract which isn’t a public document. (Remember all  UK public utilities, except the National Health Service and the BBC, and large swathes of central and local government are run privately with no accountability or information other than to contracted parties or shareholders.)

What transpired was a phone conversation which was quite stunning in its convoluted reasoning. I didn’t record it, but it was along the lines of:

“Yes we’ve published a map based on opendata but no you can’t use it”

“Why publish it, if we’re not allowed to use it?”

“We need to undertake public consultation, but the data can only be viewed not replicated as it concerns national critical infrastructure”

“So if I walk along public footpaths and roads and take photographs and gps readings wherever I can see this 16 mile civil engineering project and then make a map from my collected data, that woud be OK?

“Yes I guess so”

“So why not save me the effort and give me the data, which has already been made public, as the effect will be the same: publishing a map of a highly visible civil engineering project?”

“We can’t do that – it would compromise national critical infrastructure”

Repeat the last two statements ad infinitum.

Despite its absence from STW’s website and the medieval process of applying to look at it (and no doubt have your name recorded as a potential threat to national critical infrastructure); for those of you who want to see  a map of the proposed route, the online planning sites of each local authority that the new aqueduct traverses (Wyre Forest District Council, Wychavon District Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Birmingham City Council) provide dozens of very detailed maps, all of which are copyrighted however. So it doesn’t get us any further forward other than having to do a ground survey, but it makes a nonsense of STW’s attempts to make online access to maps difficult.

In STW’s parallel corporate universe you can have a two-year civil engineering project digging up 16 miles of the countryside with its attendant huge online archive of public planning documents all of which you can make invisible! Just as long as you don’t have an online opensource map!

Anyone feel like helping with the ground survey?



4 Responses

  1. John Sturdy

    Pipelines often show up as linear disturbances in fields, long after they were created; if it’s just one field, it may be a hedge that was removed, but if it lines up from field to field, it may well be a pipeline. Here’s the longest one I’ve managed to spot so far:
    I had assumed it was for water, as it starts near a reservoir, but I see that since then someone has tagged the complex it probably starts at as being a gas compressor station.
    Also, gas pipelines are marked with conspicuous white posts with red bands.

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