Addresses fixed.. so what happened to open data..

Remember just over a year ago, when it was announced that much of the UK’s geographic information was to be made available free at the point of use, seems a long time ago does it not ? but a year on it’s hard to judge the real impact. Clearly this was the right thing to do, I had argued for such an approach for years, but I can’t help having a nagging feeling this may all have been too little too late.

To be clear Ordnance Survey has done a excellent job, promoting their free data-sets, and have built a robust mechanism to provide access to their excellent free products, and even better have used their new freedoms to innovate using this data in particular pioneering geographic linked data.

Behind the OS opendata announcements of last year was the unresolved issue of providing greater access to geocoded address information, in simple terms the mechanism which turns your house number and postcode, something everybody knows, into a OS grid co-ordinate or more commonly now latitude and longitude which very few people know. This makes geocoded address data one of the most useful parts of government data, and was clearly an important missing part of the whole opendata story.

The reason the issue was unresolved was a bitter battle between three parts of government, the Royal Mail, Ordnance Survey and the Local Government developers of the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG), each of which had a commercial interest in developing different address data products.

Last week Bob Neill,Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at the Dept. of Communities and Local Government announced the creation of a single national address gazetteer database to be made available free of charge within government via the new PSMA but commercially licensed to everybody else.

The Geoplace database represents a take-over of the NLPG by the OS and the nationalisation of Intelligent Addressing Ltd the company that was developing NLPG on behalf of Local Government, bet you did not expect that from this government 🙂  So at last we will have one national address register for England, Wales and potentially Scotland (Not Northern Ireland it seems), but despite this clear progress there is an obvious question..

Should such a core nationally important data-set to not be part of the governments opendata project ?

Written and submitted from the Royal Geographical Society (51.501N, 0.175W)

6 comments

  1. Grant

    While I applaud a resolution to the NLPG wrangling which has been going on for far too long, this looks like quite a win for OS. Local Councils do all the work and OS have a 50% share in the licence! I guess this approach was probably easier than dealing with the onerous OS licencing restrictions (anything you captured using any reference whatsoever/whenever to an OS product = tied into an OS licence for life) which were hampering the NLPG in the first place.

  2. TimW

    What are the reasons why individuals or commercial organisations should be able to get address data for free? What would the data be used for? One suspects advertising would be high on the list – is this an area Google has any interest in? ;-). If so, why should private companies get tax payer funded address data free so they can use it to make money for themselves? Any many people will feel that they already get enough junk mail, without more companies trying to sell them things they don’t want!

    • Ed

      @TimW, you could make the same argument about any government data.. that argument has been decided in favour of open data, I’m just pointing out that its strange that perhaps the most useful data for UK Plc has been excluded.

  3. Marcus Blake

    Looks like the UK has taken a leaf out of Australia’s play book. Even down to the PSMA acronym (www.psma.com.au) 😉

    In Australia, PSMA Australia Ltd is a commercial organisation wholly owned by the State and Commonwealth governments. It principle role is to construct, manage and on sells national spatial data sets, based on sources from each of the States/Territories.

    Whilst not providing an open model, PSMA Australia Ltd has allowed wide access to key national spatial data sets, i.e. the National Cadastre and the Geocoded National Address File, both for local commercial companies (e.g. Map Data Sciences, Intech Solutions Ltd) and State and Government departments that are increasingly integrating spatial understanding into their policies.

    PSMA has certainly been a successful entity in Australia and the Geocoded National Address File will underpin not only the next Australian Census but also a brand new and much improved statistical geography (www.abs.gov.au/geography), which incidentally is distributed under a CC-BY license.

    For those interested, a brief history of PSMA Australia Ltd can be found here (http://www.psma.com.au/aboutpsma/ourhistory.cfm)

  4. Shane O'Neill

    One wants to welcome the resolution of the long running address saga but one has to mention the PAF and what will happen with it…?

    And fundamentally one has to ask Francis Maude how on earth it came to pass that we get all this free stuff on data.gov.uk of questionable utility but the real crown jewels of linked data – the geo-spatial and addressing bits – are removed more firmly under lock and key.

    How long can Messrs Berners Lee and Shadbolt pretend that their vision is taking shape? It is compromised by this most fundamental exclusion of keystone data.

  5. James

    Ordnance released the Code-Point® Open data set which holds the postcode and corresponding OS Grid references. For the moment, whilst not including NI, this is pretty awesome. If you merge this with OS Locator you can get a pretty decent address system made up.

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