back to article Cell site data sinks into black hole of local bureaucracy

It seems that UK mobile operators do publish the location of every base station, but they then mail that information to local authorities who do almost nothing with the data. The data is collected by the Mobile Operators Association (MOA), and converted into the standard-but-little-known Easting and Northing coordinate system …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Does each local authority receive the data relevant only to them, or do they all receive the same master file? If the latter then it would take only one IT chap in one local authority to convert the data into a useful format and stick it on an open-access website somewhere.

    It sounds more like lack of motivation, or perhaps incompetence, rather than anything maliciously secretive (at least when looking at the authorities, rather than Everything Everywhere).

    1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

      I'd guess ...

      I'd infer from the article that each authority receives only their own data. As you say, if any one of them received a full set, then it would only take one to release it for the full data set to be available to all.

      The conversion itself is probably fairly easy - in spite of what the Ordnance Survey say :

      Conversion of OS Grid Eastings and Northings to Latitude and Longitude involves an extremely difficult equation. Details of this are included in a free booklet called 'A guide to coordinate systems in Great Britain' which can be obtained via Ordnance Survey's GPS website

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        It may be an "extremely difficult equation" but software to do it is readily and freely available. Personally I would find OS grid refs a much more convenient format for processing than lat/lon.

      2. The Fuzzy Wotnot

        Yeah, but...

        Yeah it's complicated but you can bucket loads of premade sets of code to do it and even ready made utils. Heck, I even got hold of a CPAN mod to do it in Perl and wrote a 5 line script for my old man to use on his PC with his bird watching antics!

  2. Colin Millar

    Stop spending my money

    If you want to get data go and do it at your own cost instead of thinking up more things for local authorities to do that I have to pay for.

    That is the pickpocket icon?

  3. Vic

    Northing and Easting "too complicated"?

    They're easy.

    If any authority needs a script to convert them to lat/long, my services ar available for a small fee...


  4. Anonymous Coward

    Too Complicated?

    Northing and Easting is a standard term (used on ordance survey maps - hardly obscure) and last time I looked could easily be found on service such as streetmap using the OS gird (x,y) option.

    I think its because OS maps are flat and the world is not.

    it should be reasonably simple to convert one to the other.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The world isn't flat?

      Been to Holland recently? That bit seemed pretty flat to me.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Now that I know...

    ... I will contact my planning team and see if they have the data so we can put it on our scant opengov data section of the site.

    Why is it I only find out about this sort of thing from news websites, with all the organisational skills in the world you still be pushed to organise a piss up in a brewery even if you work in the brewery.

    Anon for obvious reasons.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS Eastings & Northings

    OS grid references are indeed alive and well - the utilities (and to the extent they have any GIS, the local authorities as well) in the UK still use them more than anything else.

    They are in fact quite nice to use (1 unit = 1 meter), but are a bit old fashioned and only work in the UK as they rely on a flat model of the world and this obviously breaks if you move too far latitudinally or longitudinally.

    One thing they are not, however, is easy to convert to a proper spatial reference system, such as the model used for GPS lat/long. There is in fact no exact mathematical mapping between lat/long and OS Easting/Northing. There are mathematical models for conversion, but they are horrifically complicated and inaccurate by up to a meter - one reason the utilities haven't yet moved away from them. Another reason is the increased complexity of GIS queries on a geographic dataset compared to a geospatial dataset - have you tried working out surface area in a spherical reference system? Not nice.

    1. Nick Pettefar

      Re: Anonymous Coward OS Eastings & Northings 5th May 2011 20:11 GMT

      > They are in fact quite nice to use (1 unit = 1 meter)

      Would that be an electric or gas meter?

  7. rpjs


    Having worked in local government IT I do not believe for one moment that the shiny GIS systems that no self-respecting planning department would be seen dead without cannot convert from National Grid References to latitude and longitude or indeed the compass bearing and number of miles and chains from Charing Cross and back again.

    I do find it easy to believe that no-one in said planning departments can be arsed to import the data though.

  8. One Igloo


    Why exactly are the Local Authorities the evil ones here? If the mobile operators want to release THEIR data why can't they simply post it on THEIR websites?

    Disclosure: I work for a Local Authority. I and my colleagues have better things to do than be the fall guys for lazy, devious, greedy commercial companies.

  9. dotdavid
    Thumb Up


    Looks like a good idea. Installing the app...

  10. IglooDude


    The operators could provide it on their websites and save local authorities the entire effort of receiving it and ignoring/deleting/publicising it? No one is trying to weigh down local government with additional responsibilities; but it seems to be what the operators are forcing through their intransigence on this.

    1. One Igloo

      Credit where credit is due

      My thanks to Igloodude for his/her temperate and reasoned re-rendering of my post. I do tend to have little truck with the trappings of civilised discourse. But one key element of my rant has been lost in translation: why did the author of the original article cast his argument in the form of a criticism of Local Authorities?

      1. Cameron Colley

        That's in an ideal world.

        In the real world Telco's are scum and getting any information from them is next to impossible.

        So, since someone has the data it can't be that hard to simply make the file available on a website. The Local Authority don't have to do any conversion or either format of the file or of the data itself -- all this could be done by any number of bored CS students or other assorted geeks. It's not that hard to receive a file, virus scan it, then post it on a web page next to a disclaimer.

      2. Colin Millar

        Cos they are a natural target

        And they don't expect anyone to stand up for them.

        They don't have a clue about what is really going on inside LAs right now and can't be bothered to find out.

        "Sorry your desperately needy elderly relative or severely disabled child can't have any help - we spent it all on arsing about with data geekery for the three people in the world that are interested in this crap."

  11. Skoorb


    Either do it on the web, download a free program, or look at the equation to do it yourself. They'll even give you a DLL for free!

    Or batch convert a whole lot at You want to convert from "National Grid".

  12. Barrie Shepherd

    Map Co-Ords

    If you have a paper map in front of you the Northings and Eastings OS grid reference is far superior for finding your way around. and recording where points of interest are - long may it reign.

    It can't be that complicated as the handheld GPS unit I had 10 years ago had it as a display option.

    As for the Carriers, OFCOM should just seek the change in legislation to make provision of the data compulsory (for ALL transmission sites) - Even Australia's ACMA have managed this - all site details being available on it's database.

  13. Nigel Jones

    Test valley have it

    I contacted my local borough council in Jan this year after hearing this data existed, and the council planning dept replied to me in less than 24 hours with the spreadsheet -- lucky find.

    So I can confirm Test Valley borough council (hampshire) have had a request & do keep the data!

    It's a shame though the info is limited - I wonder what the legitimacy (for example) of importing the data into OpenStreetMap might be. That has a lot of details on power lines (voltages etc, # cores) but not seen much evidence of mobile basestation data.

    The info also is more related to new rollout than existing sites (from a quick look)

  14. Alan Firminger

    Half way

    Mobile 'phone antennae should be plotted by O.S. They are features of the landscape.

    The simplest way to achieve this would be centrally. Why are O.S. not required to be given the same as all the local authorities ?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Are not getting this all the wrong way round?

    Don't the mobile companies have to apply for planning permission to put up their base stations?

    So the idiots in Local Gov already have all the locations. Or is that far too much to ask that they might possibly have updated their GIS Systems (they all have them as the UK Gov funded them as part of the streetworks project) with things like mobile phone base stations?

    Fail for everyone involved.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget Sitefinder - for tax reasons the VOA has better information

    The UK Valuation Office Agency keep an Address / Post code based record for Council Business rates collection and these are published on the web

    see for example

    Extract from Hansard 4 Feb 2004 : Column 749

    Phil Sawford (Kettering) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the current records for such sites are hopelessly inadequate and inaccurate? Map references suggest that sites in the south of England are in northern France, and that equipment on Blackpool tower is in the middle of the Irish sea. Will she make every effort to ensure that the records are updated, and that new technology is used to make them as accurate as possible?

    Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. Of course the information needs to be as accurate as possible. An independent audit of the work done by operating companies has found that they have not been keeping adequate information; we have raised the issue with them, and they have said that they will improve it. Meanwhile, the Radiocommunications Agency is producing a full list of all sites in the country. I will raise the issues that my hon. Friend has mentioned with the agency.

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