The Angry Corrie 23: May-Jul 1995

Confidential memo from:
Chief Executive Ordnance Survey

MEMO FROM: Chief Executive Ordnance Survey

TO: The Minister for the Environment

DATE: April 1995

REF: Ordnance Survey Map Policy

I believe that investigative journalism will soon bring into the open the official Ordnance Survey map policy. Recent articles in the press (for example "The Best Maps in the World?", in "The Angry Corrie" No.21) are beginning to get too close to the bone in their questioning of whether OS maps are good value for money. These journalists may not accept the argument that the real role of the Ordnance Survey is to produce money for the Treasury to help finance tax cuts. They are also raising the quaint idea of public service! Obviously updating maps costs time and money, and is not economically efficient. The public may soon realise that merely producing a new cover, and a new typeface for the cover, will not be enough to justify the associated price increase. It may not therefore be possible to continue with our target of the same uniform price per kilometre square for all maps (at the current 1:10,000 rate of c.35p/sq km.)

However, our accountants have not been idle, and have formulated a plan for which the Ordnance Survey seeks the approval of your ministry. We have identified two markets for 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 maps - the upland user and the lowland user. It is very cost-inefficient to produce maps for this first category: the uplands cover 50% of Britain, but hillwalkers comprise only 0.3% of the population. Market research, though, shows that most hillwalkers are gear- and gadget-orientated, having a higher than average number of computers, Goretex, etc per household. Thus our market researchers are suggesting that they form the ideal market for portable global positioning systems which, at 500 per system, give a much better return than maps. GPS's will, in fact, make maps obsolescent, for with them you always know exactly where you are. Thus it is in our long-term interest to market these items at the expense of maps.

Our market research department shows that 21% of households in the lowlands possess an OS map - generally the map of their home area. However, these maps are rarely used in practice, presumably because most people know their own locality quite well. It is also the case that most of the lowland countryside is becoming quite homogeneous - prairie arable fields with no content, canalised rivers, old town centres surrounded by suburban sprawl, out-of-town shopping centres of the same design from Brighton to Banff, etc. Thus we have asked our digitised map department to scan all their lowland maps to produce an average UK lowland map. Then, all we have to do is to print the town names to suit the locality, and print the same OS map for every county in lowland Britain. This will make huge cost savings. We are also considering the production of the average universal map for the UK uplands to satisfy those luddites who will not buy our GPS systems. These new maps will be printed on special UV-sensitive, non-waterproof paper so that they will need to be frequently replaced.

There are also other exciting possibilities opening up with the advent of digitised maps. Our computer department is currently working on a programme to determine the UK map layout where the maximum number of large towns fall on the edge of maps, with all overlaps eliminated. This would maximise the number of people who would need to buy at least two, preferably four maps. If our universal lowland map mentioned above is a success, then we will be able to sell people up to four copies of the same map - this should keep the Treasury happy! Our recent marketing of local maps with a given residence at the centre of the map has been discontinued, to be relaunched soon with the residence in question at the edge of the map.

TAC 23 Index