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UPRNs and USRNs are crucial to planning and housing

24/03/21

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The new independent review from the Geospatial Commission highlights the need to make better use of location data, writes Gayle Gander from GeoPlace

Street map

A crucial observation is among those to emerge from the Geospatial Commission’s recently published review of location data for planning and housing.

“It is impossible to plan for the development of residential housing without accounting for a wide array of other public services – transport, health, social care, education – all of which relies on the use and interoperability of data tied to a location. UPRNs (Unique Property Reference Numbers) have a key role to play here as a linking mechanism between the public and private sector.”

Although the Planning and Housing Landscape Review, compiled by Newgate Research, points to problems with the provision and quality of relevant geospatial data, it is to be welcomed for highlighting the importance of the data – and for emphasising the crucial role of property and street identifiers in the property lifecycle.

This reflects the importance of the work of local authorities and GeoPlace in the national management of UPRNs and Unique Street Reference Numbers (USRNs). We provide a range of the identifiers to local authorities and Ordnance Survey, which then assign them to every addressable location and street in Great Britain. They are then held within the National Address Gazetteer and National Street Gazetteer, both of which are managed by us but made available for reuse by Ordnance Survey as open data.

The identifiers provide an authoritative code that can be used to create trusted connections between different sources of information that are relevant to a location; and this makes it possible to link matching records from different databases.

Land and property lifecycle

The report outlines the important role that the identifiers have in stages of the land and property lifecycle. This begins with the identification of land for development, by a local authority or private sector developer, then the judgements by the former on the volume and type of housing needed.

The property lifefcycle is a complex process that takes account of factors such as population, social, economic and environmental trends, and is more effective if all of this is supported by reliable data. If the relevant datasets all include UPRNs and USRNs where appropriate it makes it possible to link them and provide a better understanding of how a planning decision will affect the other factors for a community.

When the journey moves on to housing sales the developer will use data to calculate valuations, again taking account of different sources, and again the process is more effective if the identifiers are attached.

They are also increasingly included in property log books, which provide home owners and prospective buyers with detailed information about a property’s history through a secure web service and are becoming progressively more popular. The report says that in future this could form a standardised repository of property information required for completing a transaction.

Priority work

UPRNs and USRNs also have a value related to two of the four areas of work that the report says should be prioritised.

One is the recognition that planning and housing data needs to be linked with spatial data from related domains – such as transport and health – which needs greater collaboration between public and private sectors. A starting point would be improving access and agreement on metadata standards, including identifiers.

The other is the need for agreement on core data requirements and the development of a minimum degree of competencies related to geographical information within local authorities.

UPRNs and USRNs are key elements of these priorities. The report says they have the potential to provide the standard that will align local authority data with wider datasets and property technology solutions to support greater interoperability, and points out they are already available for reuse from Ordnance Survey under the Open Government Licence. The Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) makes them available to every public sector organisation to use on a royalty-free and open basis.

Additionally, the Open Standards Board, via the Government Digital Service, has mandated that the UPRN and USRN are the public sector standard for referencing and sharing property and street information and should be used to identify geographic locations.

In short, they have a great untapped potential in planning and housing and are already there to be used.

Need for understanding

But the report also emphasises that geospatial data is still little understood by leaders or prioritised for investment. Local authorities make good use of UPRNs and USRNs, but in the wider planning community there is often no standardisation of addressing or alignment of data with a consistent UPRN.

Seeing the potential of the identifiers, fronted by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IPRM), leading residential property bodies published an open letter to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP highlighting the potential benefits from widely adopted UPRNs, and steps that government needs to take to make this happen. The signatories of the letter, including leading bodies from across the residential property sector, believe that the wide market adoption of the UPRN will deliver substantial benefits to UK society, the residential property sector and to government.

In response, there is a need to showcase what adoption can achieve, and those in the public sector who are aware of their greater potential need to advocate the wider use of the identifiers. Part of this is in showing that the costs of producing and maintaining reliable spatial data and making it widely available would soon be exceeded by the return on investment through better planning decisions and innovation in property technology.

This is a big issue for local authorities and their partners in the planning and housing sectors, as it will shape the future development of residential and business areas and public space. The different parties need a firm understanding of how a proposal will relate to the local environment, public and private services, and this come only come from a clear view of the data underpinned by UPRNs and USRNs.

GeoPlace has the expertise to provide support in making this possible and welcomes approaches from organisations of all kinds to help them get the most from location data.

Read more about why Minister for Housing Christopher Pincher MP described the opening up of the identifiers as "the most powerful boost for the UK proptech sector in a generation", and check out this year's GeoPlace conference which features a session on housing.

Image from iStock, Shomiz

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