Current situation: access to address register data

In England and Wales, the complexity of various registries resulted in the creation of several inconsistent and separately-maintained address lists. By the late 2000s, two main lists had emerged: the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) and Mastermap Address Layer 2 (MMAL2).

The NLPG represented the combined efforts of local government, through the combination of local land and property gazetteers who each supplied their own lists to Intelligent Addressing (IA). IA cleaned and integrated these address records, returning them to the local authorities and also producing the NLPG.

MMAL2 represented collaboration in which address intelligence from Royal Mail's PAF was combined with survey information from Ordnance Survey and released as a data layer associated with the Mastermap digital mapping product.

Intellectual Property considerations prevented any further amalgamation of NLPG and MMAL2, both of which were available as commercial products. PAF is separately available as an address list from Royal Mail but does not itself contain any geographical coordinates or Ordnance Survey information – hence it has been widely used as a sampling frame for postal surveys but cannot directly be mapped or manipulated in a geographical information system. Emergency services, energy suppliers and the Valuation Office Agency have each continued to maintain their own lists.

However, the last couple of years saw some very significant developments in the situation described above. In the context of government's interest in transparency, and pursuing potential replacements for the traditional census (known as the 'Beyond 2011' project), a new organisation called GeoPlace was set up to create and maintain a definitive national address gazetteer. GeoPlace is a public sector limited liability partnership between the Local Government Association and Ordnance Survey.

This approach permitted the design of a new workflow which reconciles the address intelligence streams from local government and Royal Mail/Ordnance Survey while allowing the two key organisations to retain the IP in the resulting product. At present this largely embodies the strengths and weaknesses of the two parent data products but there is an extensive development plan to increase data quality and production efficiency. Address information from Royal Mail remains a key requirement and the precise nature and GeoPlace clearly relies on the continued supply of address change information from Royal Mail and various options exist for managing this in future, including a possible new licensing framework for PAF and all PAF-derived products, which would include the GeoPlace gazetteer.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have progressed further and faster than England and Wales towards the integration of their address data sources, with Northern Ireland having developed its Pointer system and Scotland the One Scotland (formerly the Definitive National Address) gazetteer, which broadly combine comparable sources of information within those countries. It is not yet clear to what extent it will be possible to resolve the necessary licensing issues to fully integrate these products within the GeoPlace gazetteer and create a UK solution for the whole of the UK.