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Environment Agency to release flood risk information as part of UK government's 'open data' push

Data held by the Environment Agency (EA) covering the risk of flooding in different parts of England is to be made available as part of the UK government's stated policy of making data public by default, the Cabinet Office has announced.

Cabinet secretary Francis Maude said that this information, which had previously only been available to a small number of insurance companies for a fee, would help local communities "better protect themselves" against the risks of flooding. The release was previously planned for April 2015, but has been brought forward with the support of central government funding.

"Let's be clear - this is data that is accumulated and maintained at taxpayer's expense," he said. "It is right that this data be made available to the public."

"The way people now use technology and discover information is changing; more people interact with news and information through social media compared with more conventional sources. We need to find ways to integrate and adapt vitally important information to people in the most effective way. There's huge potential for technology 'mash-ups' between flood data and, for example, Google Maps, making it more accessible and easier to use. So this is just the beginning," he said.

Data that will now be published by the EA include real-time readings from every UK river level sensor, flood warnings and flood alerts. The release follows a pilot project during the serious flooding at the start of 2014, in which the government gave 200 software developers and computer programmers access to the data. Maude said that within two days the group had come up with "a range of solutions to help – from a phone service that connects people with their energy supplier in a power cut, to an app that alerts Twitter users to local volunteering opportunities".

'Open data' is the term that the UK government uses to describe its policy that data it holds is made available publicly, in a format which facilitates its re-use, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. The government's open data portal, data.gov.uk, now hosts 16,000 sets of open data and information on a further 4,080 unpublished datasets, covering topics from live traffic information to statistics on childhood obesity.

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