Addressing, Custodians and INSPIRE

After my last blog entry about the signing of the Public Sector Licence for PAF there has been some pretty hectic activity to get it up and running and it seems generally to have gone pretty well, thanks to the efforts of everyone involved.  The first year is a transitional period and during it the PSL only applies to PAF contained in Ordnance Survey addressing products and only when supplied directly by the OS.  I’m not sure that all of the subsequent discussions about implementation entirely recognised the underlying tenet of the agreement as being the intention to remove barriers to using PAF and thus promote good addressing, but it will provide some lessons for the implementation by other Solution Providers in 2015.

What it does mean for OSMA and PSMA members is that one of the major barriers to deploying AddressBase has now been removed and many in the addressing industry expect the take-up of AddressBase to expand exponentially in the public sector.  The principal reason for this it that everyone now can have access to the UPRN and geo-reference and at the same time have the comfort of using the form of address with which the overwhelming majority are familiar i.e. the postal address.

This raised an interesting debate which was aired yesterday at the One Scotland Gazetteer custodians meeting and I’m sure will be much repeated going forwards.  There is a view which has been around in local government since I first became involved in addressing a few years ago, that the street naming and numbering address is the statutory address for that property and that everyone, Royal Mail included, should be compelled to use it.  This would be the definitive address. Thinking on it, when we started the One Scotland Gazetteer as a national programme in 2003 it was called the Definitive National Address.  Apart from the unfortunate connotations from the acronym, which certainly raised the interest in the programme to levels which addressing could only dream about (followed immediately by subsequent disappointment at finding out what DNA actually stood for), that was what we set out to do.  However, given the lack of penetration of OSG and NLPG, and the overwhelming market position of PAF addresses, it could be argued that a definitive national address is unattainable and despite some fair robust arguments from custodians yesterday, I felt that the most sage comment was that a definitive national address which was universally accepted was probably Nirvana and as such something to aspire towards, recognising that there had to be an interim and that AddressBase seemed to provide this.  Wonder what others think – is a definitive national address attainable or even desirable?

What came over from the custodians is that there is a tremendous effort being made by the gazetteer community to get OSG as good as possible within the resource constraints faced by local government.  It was noted that 19 of the 32 councils attended the meeting and there was a good discussion how, as a community, standards and consistency could be improved and how support could be provided to those perhaps less engaged.  All this will feed through into overall quality improvements however OSG is accessed, either directly or through AddressBase.

As a slight digression from addressing, I gave a very quick overview of how Scottish Government, and in particular local government, are proposing to meet the INSPIRE regulations and indeed approach the delivery of a Scottish SDI in a collective manner.  There is an embryonic Proposal and Business Case being completed, and this will go to the Spatial Information Board later this month, and which will provide information on a number of options of how Scotland (in this instance I refer to government, NHS, other public sector bodies, commercial organisations and members of the public) and indeed UK and Europe can get the most value from our spatial data.  At times I do wonder about INSPIRE - is there is any real interest in all of the datasets covered by the regulations, other than perhaps some obscure academic potential research projects?  It is becoming apparent that whilst the overall principles of INSPIRE around data-sharing in an open manner ( of course remembering that “open” and “free of charge” aren’t the same thing) is where Scotland wants and needs to go, there are finite resources available and that prioritisation will be required. 


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Andrew Savill 5 Years Ago
Some interesting comments Iain especially about addresses. As SNN Officer for my authority I don't have a problem with Royal Mail issuing post codes, that's their prerogative and a useful add-on. What I do object to is their incessant 'tickering' with addresses and their creation of 'fantasy' addresses that have no relation to the real world. As I understood it the post code was supposed to allow the delivery of mail without any other part of the address being present, i.e. someone could send me a letter to 60 NG10 4QZ and it would get to my house. If that is so, why then do they insist on adding, or subtracting, parts from the officially and legally allocated address? I don't mind adding their post code, I object to them messing about with my addresses. If we could get to a situation where they only added their post code to our addresses I'm sure we could all accept that and this conflict we have between us could end tomorrow. I also like your point about INSPIRE. Just what is it all about?
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
I guess one of the likely outcomes of INSPIRE is that organisations are tending to publish more data (e.g. through WMS)? If so, one consequence is that where one organisation is seen as the authority(Steward or Custodian role) for that data set but is not the author (i.e. Custodian collates data from a number of owners) and fails to maintain a full and accurate set, there are potential conflicts. So if both the authority/custodian and the individual authors/owners publish their data, there is potential for discrepancy. From a master data management perspective, this is not acceptable. I have found one example of this discrepancy, which could potentially lead to legal challenge by consumers of the data. Anyway, in a circuitous approach, what I am thinking is that this whole approach to addresses should be around Master Data Management - one definitive data set. So thinking about Ian's Nirvana - surely this is achievable and in fact essential. Surely it is a matter of defining roles and the process to ensuring there is one data set for addresses. For example (perhaps a bit simplistic), Local Authorities collate the basic address data from various sources (e.g. Scottish Assessors, roads, planning) and based on the spatial data (E/N), the (as Andrew suggests the Royal Mail contributes) post code is automatically allocated => One definitive data set.
Iain McKay 5 Years Ago
Posted on behalf of Robert James:- In response to Andrew Saville, postcodes were never intended to replace elements of the address though many believe this to be the case. Postcodes were intended to be building blocks for delivery walks, chosen to be small coherent groups of properties on one road that were unlikely to be split between deliveries. In the 1970/80's the PAF entries were normally completed by the team responsible for walk revisions in the Head Post Office, practise is somewhat different now. Around 1985 when I was managing the Postcode Address File this issue was raised by the PO board and I undertook a study to see if it was workable. Whilst most properties can be identified by the property number or the first and last 2 characters of the property name (this was the suggestion of a board member), a large rump of 5-10% of addresses couldn't this included all flats, many businesses, names that were ambiguous within postcode when treated this way e.g. Mill House Cottage and Minow Cottage, the study concluded that this type of abbreviation was pointless because a significant number of addresses would have to be shown in full. ( additionally this approach would be predicated on the basis that the Royal Mail followed its own rules and did not have more than one thoroughfare to a postcode which is not true) Whilst not an apologist for the address management section, I have to point out that whist you have the right to name streets and number properties you have no legal right to determine which town that street is in, and certainly no right to name localities or properties (only London authorities have that right) the legislation was enacted to facilitate the placing of street name signs and property numbers for public health and no other purpose, though London authorities were require by law to keep a record of all property and street changes in the form of a gazetteer from 1856 onwards, though I am not aware of any that have done so. I would argue that deficiencies in this elderly legislation hinder the acceptance of a standard de jure address, an example of this is the poorly written legislation in Scotland which doesn’t allow the numbering of apartments with a common stair (tenements) since it requires the number to be visible from the road. I have no problem with multiple address styles for the same property so long as these are appropriately linked so there is no ambiguity as to delivery of service, I am well aware that the Postal address based on Royal Mail historic London centric transport routes leads to nonsensical addresses for example Dunham on Trent where I live, whilst being in Bassetlaw and facing Retford and Worksop for LA service delivery and much shopping has a Newark Posttown. This is needed for any manual sorting since our Royal mail deliveries come from Newark, use of a Retford Post Town would mean items going to Doncaster then being re-sorted to Newark. Overtime less and less items are handled manually and the Royal Mail may be able to be more flexible as to Post Town and locality usage however from bitter experience I know that any address change mooted by Royal Mail leads to disagreement and requests for compensation thus any change and certainly wide sweeping change will not easily gain support from Royal Mail. As an aside the initiation of the Postcode system by the creation of London districts in 1856 was as much a local Authority driven activity as a postal one, the 1847 Town improvement clauses act and the subsequent erection of street name plates had identified significant duplication of street names and ill-defined locality boundaries such that the use of these locality names would not resolve the issue, so street names were made unique within newly created postal districts, similar activities were carried out in the 1930's in respect of the 4 major conurbations and many smaller Cities such as Salford and Sheffield.