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Prize projects showcase UPRNs in local government


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Gayle Gander of GeoPlace highlights some award winning initiatives in the use of unique property reference numbers

Everything that local authorities do happens somewhere, which is why high quality location data is crucial in efforts to deliver high quality services.

They also have immense pools of data at their disposal, and at least one member of staff responsible for the location data, providing a valuable resource for enhancing service delivery.

Especially important is the unique property reference number (UPRN), for which there is one for every addressable location in Great Britain. They apply to residential and commercial locations, as well as objects – such as bus station or electricity substations or communications mast – that do not have a typical address.

UPRNs provide a foundation for data linking, matching and analysis, providing insights on the need for services and making it possible to target them more effectively. They have been recognised by the Local Government Association as “key to almost everything that’s delivered or achieved by councils”.

There are some great examples of local authorities exploiting the value of UPRNs, some of which received accolades at the recent GeoPlace Exemplar Awards.

Addressing in Waverley

Among them was the winner of the top Exemplar Award, Waverley Borough Council, for its outstanding work in producing and maintaining high quality data, working towards data integration and delivering best practice.

Starting with the maxim that Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRN) and addresses should be 'the golden thread' and a single point of truth, the project team is working with multiple stakeholders to ensure data held within the council’s local land and property gazetteer (LLPG) is updated, implemented and used across the council. This includes liaising with Council Tax/Open Revs, Housing, and the Elections Teams as well as engaging all services at a corporate level.

This laid the ground for a number of projects, one of which was to highlight duplicate road names within a mile of each other, which affected more than 50 properties and made it more difficult for the local fire and rescue service to respond to incidents. The team worked with local residents to find an acceptable solution that caused minimum disruption, enabling clarity for everyone involved. The team is now tackling similar pieces of work in other areas of the borough, hoping to maximise the benefits of clear, unambiguous location data

The team also introduced a requirement to use an API to ensure that newly procured systems could integrate smoothly with gazetteer data. Each member of the team now understands the role of the UPRN, and the importance and value of working with accurate data – protocols are in place so that address data cannot be manually changed. This exercise has also enabled the team to set up more UPRNs when parent buildings were being identified, and for classification purposes.

Another project involved the population of the case management system for the building control team, which has made it easier to identify the correct plots and new addresses and ensured that completion certificates are sent out with the current address of the plot, not the parent address. This has resulted in fewer queries to the teams for building control, land searches and addressing, and enabled the council tax and revenues and benefits departments to identify occupied buildings more quickly.

The next project will be to automate the population of fields in the case management system using information from the LLPG, which includes UPRNs. This is expected to improve the accuracy of building identification.

By maintaining the LLPG as the sole source of location and address data, manual input is minimised, and errors are reduced, leading to cost savings not only in corrections but also by enabling team members to allocate resources more effectively. All new databases are now updated with accurate addresses, providing residents with absolute clarity.

As a result of all these activities, the Council will have confidence over the accuracy of the address and location data across the council and ensure that the gazetteer will be only source of location intelligence, creating that all important golden record.

The Census in Kingston

Another winner, for the Data Linking Award, was the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames for its commitment to ensuring the integrity and scope of data collected prior to the 2021 Census.

Working with the neighbouring borough of Sutton, it addressed the problem of gaps within local property data, which led to issues such as a misrepresentation of the student population and where they lived, and difficulties in identifying houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), houseboats, sheltered accommodation and travellers’ sites.

A number of approaches were used to identify missed properties, including: engaging with universities and third party partners for any information on where students lived; establishing a line of contact between different council teams having contact with travellers; and investigating queries from residents on property related matters, using a spreadsheet shared by different teams, to identify HMOs and illegally built properties.

All this led to the council discovering 3,000 additional properties – HMOs, student accommodation and houseboats – which has supported a review of electoral boundaries and strategic planning for emergency services, the provision of schools, traffic planning and the development of new housing estates.

Another benefit was in a 96% response rate to the Census, which Kingston believed would have been much lower without the work on improving the data.

A central element of this is that the teams providing data include the UPRN so it can be pulled into the council gazetteer, more easily matched with that from other teams and go further in proactively detecting anomalies in the addresses.

Lewisham assets

The London Borough of Lewisham won a commendation at the awards for another data linking initiative. Its property and programme delivery department wanted to make it easier to view council assets and make changes in its land registry dataset.

It created a system through which it is possible to view assets on a geographic information system (GIS), with underlying data, including the UPRNs and unique street reference numbers (USRNs), linked to the LLPG. This made it easier to run search queries and locate assets on the GIS.

It was followed up with discovery sessions with potential users to ensure they became confident in updating and managing any information about council assets, knowing that they shared a ‘single instance of the truth’.

This approach has ensured long term savings for the authority in terms of time spent sifting through emails and documents, to communicate about assets with other teams. In addition, customer queries on boundaries, ownership and plans for assets are now handled more efficiently.

These provide a few examples among many of the importance of UPRNs in data linking in local government. They make it possible to blend disparate datasets and applications, based on common focal points such as housing, education, welfare and highways, providing a wide range of benefits for the authorities and the public.

Community spirit

At the awards ceremony, GeoPlace also highlighted the outstanding work done by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, which won The Improvement Award for Addresses, and by Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, which won The Improvement Award for Streets. 165 authorities were recognised as Address Platinum Award winners with a further 47 authorities recognised as Gold Award winners address data. 111 authorities won a Platinum Award winners with 28 authorities recognised as Gold Award winners for street data management.

Additionally, Karen Hawkes from Denbighshire County Council won the Peer Award for her outstanding contributions to the street and addressing community as a whole. Colleagues highlighted how her tireless focus on promotion of the LLPG and LSG across council services has resulted in more use and improved quality in even the most challenging situations, such as during the Covid pandemic when Denbighshire was carrying out shielding calls. Offering her time to all those who ask her approach to promoting custodians' interests has helped many colleagues to progress in their careers. This award marks the community's gratitude for her time, support and her dedication to maintaining high standards in address and street data.

Councils can learn a lot from such initiatives, and there is a growing sense of a shared effort to exploit the full potential of UPRNs.

As Nick Chapallaz, managing director of GeoPlace, said: “These awards reflect a simply outstanding, across the board achievement I want to not only congratulate each authority on its achievement, and also commend the community spirit that's now underpinning this work. This is a complex ecosystem, with the integrity of myriad datasets and records depending on the efforts of some extraordinary people.

“As always, I’m looking forward to the results of this year’s Exemplar Awards being shared among colleagues seeking inspiration.”

A more in-depth look at the winning entries is available on the GeoPlace website

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