Every inch of Britain has its picture taken

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The Independent Online
ON ANY scale, it will be a very big map. The photographic record of Britain will feature every outdoor object larger than 25cm to create an intricate version of the Domesday Book for the 21st century.

The Millennium Map, made up of 130,000 aerial photographs, will provide a complete picture of Britain at the turn of the century. Every detail, from Buckingham Palace to sealed-off Ministry of Defence land or children's toys lying around in gardens will be included on the map. It will be available on the Internet from where people will be able to order pictures of their home - or someone else's. By next January when the website is launched, almost half of England will be on view and the rest will follow. Maps of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be done in 2001.

Joe Studholme, the chairman of Millennium Mapping, had the idea after he was asked by the Keeper of Public Records to create a facsimile of the Domesday Book. "We feel it is relevant to record the kingdom at the turn of the century, [almost] a thousand years after it was done last time," he said.

The company is hoping that the map will be used by everyone from businesses to private individuals. Mr Studholme said it would be useful for local authorities wanting to gather information about the number of bus routes in their area, as well as environmentalists who will be able to see how the land changes over the years.

But concerns have been raised about privacy. Liz Parratt, of Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: "People should be able to opt out and refuse permission for the photos to be published on the Internet. We'd like to see a much wider debate about this. Should we be entitled to advance notice?"

Since last March a group of four pilots has flown over 88 per cent of England in 2.5km wide corridors mapping most of the country; Manchester and parts of South-west England have still to be covered. The finished map will be updated every five years although the Millennium Wheel, which caused so much trouble when organisers tried to lift it, has been immortalised lying flat over the river Thames. Lyndon Yorke, of Trackair, who co-ordinated the pilots, said: "We divided the country into 100km squares and flew over them in north-south strips, using special cameras that had to be built into the floor of the planes."

Each camera cost pounds 300,000 and the whole project, which cost pounds 5m, will use around 300 rolls of film at pounds 1,000 each. The pilots can only work when the sun is at angle of 25 degrees so that long shadows do not obscure the detail and they have to stay at a constant height of 5,000 feet above ground. "The biggest problem was Air Traffic Control because we needed a continuous line to fly in, so we were disrupting international traffic. A couple of times when we were very near the end of the strip they kept planes in a stacking system. At other times we were told to clear off," said Mr Yorke.

Tristram Cary, the managing director of the map company, said burglars would not be able to glean any vital information from looking up specific sites on the Internet. "If they are really determined to burgle a house then they can fly over it themselves. I don't really see that looking at an aerial photo will help that much," he said.

But the minute attention to detail may prove an embarrassment to some. Mr Yorke said there had been one incident when a chief constable, who is to remain nameless, was being shown the map. He spotted a strange car in his drive and demanded to know exactly when the picture had been taken before rushing home to quiz his hapless wife.