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IT: Mapping - Mix and match

Compiling accurate data at the beginning of a project can be complex. Kevin Walsh reports on a system that could make it easier.

Having easy access to a range of geospatial information while putting together feasibility studies is something that's worth its weight in gold to civil engineers.

Collating accurate environmental and geological data or pictometry before a firm commits to a job can be a costly process. Managing all this data, often using several different software programs, can make things extremely complicated.

With this in mind Centremapslive has provided an online service where Ordnance Survey, geological data, historical mapping data, and a wealth of other information can be accessed in one place.

Centremapslive was set up in May 2006 and has since brought together data from many different suppliers to provide a one stop online shop for mapping resources distributable in all formats.

"Basically we can provide anything an engineer would want to know before committing to saying 'yes we can site the project here, put down a slab and construct a building safely on top of it'. We've got very good coverage in the big cities, and also some more rural areas," explains Centremaps strategic account manager Brian Dixon.

"We search through all our suppliers for each job, and we have roughly a dozen who can supply us with what we need. Our dataset suppliers cover different areas of the country at different times, so by using several suppliers we can ensure the latest data is available for our customers."

Centremaps providers range from the British Geological Survey to the Environment Agency, with much of this data previously unavailable online.

Data can be downloaded in a variety of formats compatible with Geographical Information System (GIS) and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Alternatively if the user is unable to access these programs a layered PDF can be created so that the different datasets can be easily compared and viewed with basic Adobe PDF reader software.

This is a particularly useful feature for users of British Geological Survey maps which often come without Ordnance Survey data for reference purposes.

When purchasing the data for a project, users are able to use the GeognoSIS tool which allows the user to mark out in detail an area of the map for which they need to purchase data.

On jobs where one feature of a landscape is the main focus, such as a river embankment, the user can simply mark the areas along the river for which the information is needed and cut out any other extraneous data in the same map grid. This can represent a major cost saving, as only necessary data is paid for rather than the un-needed information incorporated in a map covering a wider area than required.

Once the data has been purchased, users are legally permitted to distribute it amongst contractors and project shareholders.

Furthermore, with Ordnance Survey data, users are legally permitted to archive data for a period of up to 13 years. Companies have often done this to ensure a defence in case of any legal challenges over planning issues, however it has never before been possible to archive such information legally.

Environmental datasets are provided to Centremaps by Groundsure which gives users access to a historical land-use database dating back as far as 1830, and available at resolutions up to 600dpi.

Another recent addition to the data available is height data, which is attracting much interest from civil engineers. This data is sourced from four different suppliers, including the Environment Agency which has provided detailed datasets for sites where flooding and drainage issues are an important consideration.

The Centremaps website has several useful features available free of charge to engineers including the UK land survey register. This uses information provided by the Survey Association which gives detailed listings of all surveyors who have worked in a given area.

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