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Geospatial data body plan goes on the shelf

19/07/17

Land Registry annual report unveils bold digital agenda, but no mention of any consolidation with Ordnance Survey and Valuation Office Agency

Proposals to combine the three main land and property databases in a new geospatial data body appear to have been shelved by the Government. In its annual report published today, HM Land Registry makes no mention of the proposal floated in the Conservatives’ general election manifesto to create ‘the largest repository of open land data in the world’.

A Land Registry spokesperson said, as the annual report covers the year up to 31 March, no conclusions should be drawn. However, Whitehall sources indicated that the ambition of creating a cadastral data body is unlikely to be implemented in this parliament.

However, the registry’s report, the first since the Government announced the decision to retain the agency in the public sector - following years of speculation over its future - as a “digital data driven business”, is bullish on the prospects of internal digital transformation.

Digital mortgage tests

It reveals that a key step in the development of electronic conveyancing, the digital registration of mortgages against title deeds, will be publicly tested this year. The digital mortgage service which has been in private testing since last June allows borrowers to sign deeds electronically with the GOV.UK.Verify online authentication process.

Digital mortgages are among a new breed of services offered in a digital transformation, the report says.

Introducing the report, Land Registry chair Michael Mire says a fully digitised service will make its role in developing, buying and selling land and property, and collateralising mortgages and loans “almost totally frictionless”.

The register of land and property in England and Wales (Scotland has a separate database) “will become increasingly digital, 3D, comprehensive and significantly richer in data”, the report states. Data will be shared across government “for the purposes of supporting development, financial stability, tax collection, law enforcement and the protection of national security”, Graham Farrant, chief executive and chief land registrar, reveals.

Fresh impetus

He notes that the shelving of privatisation “was not an endorsement of the status quo. Rather, it gave us fresh impetus to modernise and develop our digital and data services and location intelligence to support the property market and the economy.”

Among the achievements claimed for the past year are:

  • Improvements to the application enquiry service which enables conveyancers to see the progress on specific cases online.
  • “Good feedback” from borrowers piloting digital mortgages. “The service is still in private beta but we intend to open it up to more users in 2017,” John Abbott, director of digital, data and technology, writes. “The first truly digital mortgage can be created, signed and registered without the need for any paperwork or emailing and without the need for our colleagues to be involved in the process.”
  • The announcement of a project named Digital Street to explore new technologies such as blockchain distributed ledgers and artificial intelligence.

The registry is also bullish on the subject of its controversial programme of taking over local land charge searches in England from local authorities. Moving the register from 326 English local authorities to a central database will “drive at least £88 million of benefit to the national economy by 2026-27”, it claims, cutting turnaround times from an average of eight days to instant online access.

The registry plans to have the service running for 50% of local authorities by the end of 2020.

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