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Princess Royal opens new Hydrographic HQ

29 April 2019
The stunning multi-million-pound new home of UK Hydrographic Office was officially opened by the Princess Royal.

Seafarers around the world – including every Royal Navy warship and submarine, as well as the support vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – rely on the accurate charts (maps) produced by the team from Taunton to guide them safely around the seven seas.

It uses data and information gathered by Royal Navy survey ships – HMS Protector in the Antarctic, HMS Scott largely in the Atlantic, HMS Echo and Enterprise all over the globe and new HMS Magpie in coastal waters – to ensure the charts are as accurate as possible.

For nearly 80 years it’s been based in Taunton, but the site and buildings it originally occupied were deemed unfit for 21st-Century hydrographic and geospatial information service, especially as it switches from traditional paper charts to providing a digital service instead.

The need for hydrographic science and data has never been greater.

Rear Admiral Tim Lowe RN

It’s taken 18 months to build the new headquarters for the 850 data analysers, hydrographers, cartographers, environmental experts and scientists in Somerset’s county town.

The complex features 11,000 square metres of office space – one and a half times the size of the pitch at Wembley – plus a gym and restaurant for employees.

They moved into the site in January, but it was only today that the building was formally dedicated by Princess Anne, hosted by Earl Howe, Minister of State for Defence, and Rear Admiral Tim Lowe, Acting Chief Executive and National Hydrographer. 

As well as showing off the new facility, the Hydrographic Office team gave the Princess Royal an insight into their wide-ranging work.

She told staff that they and their predecessors – the office traces its history back to 1795 – had “continually improved the safety of life at sea for mariners everywhere.”

She continued: “I hope this new building will encourage people to understand what you do here and thank you for it.

“We are looking to you in the future to be at the forefront of hydrographic and geospatial information.”

Admiral Lowe said the new headquarters was “the beating heart” of the UK Hydrographic Office – it also has offices in Bridgewater and Somerset – and the move marked “the beginning of a new chapter in our long and proud history as a world-leading geospatial information agency and hydrographic office.

“The United Nations have marked the 2020s as the decade of ocean science. The need for hydrographic science and data has never been greater.”

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