mapgubbins

a blog by Owen Boswarva

1 May

Yesterday Land Registry announced that additional Price Paid Data will be released later this year under the Open Government Licence. Price Paid Data is a dataset containing records of the sale price for every residential property sold at full market value in England and Wales from 1995 onwards.

Price Paid Data for registrations between 1 January 2009 and 31 January 2012 will be released on 28 June 2013, and the remaining data back to 1 January 1995 will be released by November 2013.

Monthly updates from 1 February 2012 onwards are already available as open data. However yesterday’s announcement means that from November the full dataset, some 17 million records, will be available for open re-use free of charge.

I’m not going to clap too hard about this announcement, in part because of the amount of time and effort it has taken to prise the full dataset out of Land Registry’s hands, and in part on principle; it is after all publicly funded data that Land Registry maintain under statutory authority (so it belongs to us dammit).

However Land Registry’s announcement is fundamentally good news. I’ve been critical of Land Registry’s intransigence on open data, and still have my doubts (why the delay until November?), but they are certainly making progress. In addition to yesterday’s announcement, the dataset inventory that Land Registry published last week is an exemplar of good practice that I would be happy to see all public authorities embrace.

Have a biscuit, Land Registry.

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Open data release of Price Paid Data was originally announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement, then walked back. I’ve written about this in previous posts. Land Registry did begin to release monthly updates to the dataset as open data. However they managed to protect their commercial interests by treating most of the dataset as a separate “historical” product, along with some waffling about evaluating the potential impact of a full open data release.

In October of last year I nominated Price Paid Data as a candidate for open data release via the new Open Data User Group data request process. The ODUG picked this up with additional material and input from others, and submitted a benefit case to the Data Strategy Board.

It’s unclear at the moment whether Land Registry will receive any compensation from the DSB’s "buy-back" fund for releasing Price Paid Data.* However I am in no doubt that the ODUG’s benefit case was crucial to keeping the spotlight on this dataset and influencing Land Registry’s decision to release it as open data.

The full Price Paid Data release is significant for several reasons:

  • Price Paid Data is a reference dataset, which is to say it’s likely to be most useful when combined with data from other sources. Reference data is what we mean when we talk about information as infrastructure. It has value not just in itself but because it underpins wider analysis and enhances the utility of other datasets. Ministers and senior civil servants like to talk about how many thousands of public datasets have been listed on Data.gov.uk, but frankly much of that data is chaff; reference data is the wheat. It’s data that matters.
  • Land Registry are moving Price Paid Data from a commercial licensing model to an open licensing model. This is relatively unusual. Under the current Government, open data policy has focused mainly on releasing categories of data that have no established revenue streams attached to them. Consequently the economic promises made for open data have been slow to materialise in the UK. If government departments really want to drive economic benefits from re-use of public sector information, they will eventually have to grasp the nettle and wind down their commercial licensing operations. Charging for public data sucks the dynamism out of information markets, by creating barriers to entry for SMEs and restricting the flexibility with which data can be used — particularly in apps and on the web.
  • Price Paid Data is the first open data release identifiably linked to the DSB/ODUG process for unlocking datasets at the request of users. ODUG members have been very active in raising the profile of arguments for open data, but progress has been rather slow on raw release. Now that the first dataset has emerged from the request pipeline, the ODUG can point to this as a signal achievement.

Right. Now let’s talk about unlocking Land Registry’s cadastral data

* Update: I’ve been told open data release of Price Paid Data has been agreed without use of ODUG/DSB funds.