The academic community: access to address register data

The academic community has not previously had routine access to address list products but has tended to purchase access to Royal Mail's Postcode Address File (PAF) on multiple occasions as a sampling frame for major surveys, which is a costly and inefficient way of working. Many universities have subscribed to the Digimap service, brokered by JISC to provide access to key Ordnance Survey datasets which include MasterMap digital mapping layers, but not Mastermap Address Layer 2. Academic use has generally not extended to the National Land and Property Gazetteer.

The GeoPlace gazetteer is being delivered as a series of products known as AddressBase™ AddressBase™ Plus and AddressBase™ Premium, each containing increasing levels of detail but even the basic Address Base product contains PAF addresses matched to local authority sources and with high resolution Ordnance Survey grid references. The GeoPlace products are being made available under the terms of the existing Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) which provides public sector agencies (eg central and local government, health authorities) with free-at-the-point-of-use access to the same large scale mapping products as covered by Digimap.

Academic institutions are not eligible to join PSMA and there is currently no intention to include GeoPlace within Digimap, which is in any case not a universally-available service. The academic community is thus faced with a major enhancement to the UK data infrastructure to which it has no obvious means of access.

The GeoPlace register will be far more important than any of the predecessor products because it finally represents an initiative to create a definitive national address database, with the inevitable consequence that public sector organisations will shift to using this as their address base. The very act of standardisation will bring about further improvements in data quality and increase the incentive for organisations to use the definitive products.

We may anticipate for example, ONS using GeoPlace as their principal survey sampling frame for future social surveys and as the foundation of any replacement to the census based on linkage of administrative records. There is a research requirement for the characteristics of the new address register to be understood, for harmonisation of the address base used for academic and government surveys and for academic researchers to be able to access and map the same address infrastructure as is being used by the public sector.