HM Land Registry Looks to the Future - 19/11/2018

Andrew Trigg, Chief Geospatial and Data Officer at HM Land Registry, sets out exciting developments leading to new products, better interoperability between agencies and innovation.

Our data is everywhere. Walk down any street in England and Wales and there’s a strong chance we’ll know the recent history of every property. Read any report on the housing market and it’s a good bet the writer will have consulted our Price Paid Data or the UK House Price Index. Download a new app for home hunters and you can almost be certain the innovators behind the technology will have used our data to build it.

Data Visualisation

We always want to see new ways people can use our data, so we took it to September’s MeasureCamp – the 13th and latest in the series of regular gatherings of web analytics experts from around the world. We are proud to be the first Civil Service organisation to sponsor MeasureCamp and delighted to provide prizes for a data visualisation competition to present land registration data in original and stimulating ways.

Our involvement with the MeasureCamp community reflects our drive to encourage innovative uses of data and our ambition to become the world’s leading land registry for speed, simplicity and an open approach to data. We have been collecting data since ‘Title Number 1’ was voluntarily registered in 1863 to Sir Fitzroy Kelly MP for his properties Crane Hall and The Chantry near Ipswich, Suffolk. As a result, we now hold one of the largest transactional and geospatial property databases in Europe, replete with information that’s valuable to a vast range of users from homebuyers and lenders to journalists and entrepreneurs, not least those chosen to take part in our Geovation Programme.

The Geospatial Commission

Nothing has more clearly signalled the central place of government data in the economy, and our role in meeting the demand for it, than the creation of the Geospatial Commission. The commission has been set up by the Government to maximise the value of government data linked to location and we are one of the six public bodies tasked with making it a success. This is a big opportunity for the UK economy and we are excited to be part of it. I have been involved in some of the commission’s forerunners and I can safely say that none has had its ambition and resources. With £40 million in new funding in each of the next two years, the expectation is that geospatial data can unlock up to £11 billion of extra value for the economy every year.

We are working with Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority to improve the access to, links between and quality of our data. We will look at making more geospatial data available for free and without restriction, set regulation and policy in relation to public sector geospatial data, hold individual bodies to account for delivery against the geospatial strategy and provide strategic oversight and direction across Whitehall and public bodies.

Local Land Charges Register and a Comprehensive Register

The value we can add to data is perfectly illustrated by our new Local Land Charges Register. Our fourth register has been created to provide a single digital source for local land charges searches. The register will grow steadily as each local authority migrates the data previously held in its own database or filing cabinets. So far Warwick, Liverpool and London have made the move, adding around 23,000 charges in London’s case. The Government trusted us to be the custodian and gatekeeper of this extremely important database. The integrity and ease of use of the service we provide is a test of our credentials for which we are well prepared.

Our Register Completion team is meanwhile making progress on our strategic aim to register all land and property in England and Wales by 2030. We want to create a comprehensive register of freehold land where the owner is known, and the extent of their ownership can be geospatially defined. Currently, just under 86% of the freehold land area of England and Wales is registered so meeting our target will significantly expand the data in the register.

Opening Our Data

Our plans for our data are set out in the five-year Business Strategy we launched last November. It details how we intend to transform our organisation to meet the demands of the modern housing market, making conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper. In the same month we met the first data target in strategy by releasing our Commercial and Corporate Ownership and Overseas Companies Ownership datasets. By making the data available free of charge, we removed a financial barrier that had hindered its wider use by citizens, entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized enterprises. Our 24 customers in the year leading up to launch shot up to more than 2,400 in the six months since.

Data users of all kinds, from private individuals to large corporations and government bodies, have since been poring over the files and coming up with fascinating insights. Local authorities and housing associations are using the data to verify their estates and support housing decision-making, and private-sector organisations benefit from monitoring their property holdings, enabling better long-term strategic planning. The BBC used the data to highlight the link between foreign firms registered in tax havens and property holdings in England and Wales. The Mirror reported that “foreign-registered companies own properties in the UK worth at least £50 billion”, while campaigner Guy Shrubsole mapped a network of Cold War-era tunnels under London.

After publishing our Commercial and Corporate Ownership and Overseas Companies Ownership datasets, our entire Data Services Team worked on nothing else for a week due to the unprecedented demand. The team is part of our dedicated Data Group, which is responsible for a significant part of the management of our data, from specifications through to delivery. The Data Products and Services Team sets and implements our strategy and policy relating to data products and data-driven services, and our Data Capture and Management Team does the same for the creation and management of our data, including helping manage third-party data where required. A stringent approach to quality is at the core of all their work, ensuring the data held in our registers is fit both for registration purposes and for reuse as accessible datasets.

We have learned from the experience of bringing these datasets to publication to further streamline our processes for future releases. As set out in our Business Strategy, our plans include implementing our data publishing platform by March 2019; making 90% of our publishable data available by March 2020; and making all our publishable data available by 2020/21 where there is demand and a user need.

With each release we expect to see a burst of publicity and then a period of intense activity during which fertile minds across Britain and beyond will come up with creative ways to employ it. In a multitude of guises, our data will be put to valuable, useful and eye-catching uses in yet more places than before.

The Geovation Programme

Through the Geovation Programme, we encourage and support property technology (PropTech) companies who hope to revolutionise the property industry with new products and services. The programme, run in partnership with Ordnance Survey, provides the winning applicants with £20,000 in funding and access to data, expertise and support, including the use of the facilities at the Geovation Hub in Clerkenwell, London. The first cohort – Orbital Witness, GetRentr and AskPorter – have secured further investment totalling more than £1 million. Following in their pioneering footsteps are second round winners Skyscape, Thirdfort, Fruumi and Hipla. Another Geovation project is Landinsight which provides information to buyers and developers.

Case Study - Orbital Witness

Real estate intelligence start-up company Orbital Witness offers satellite imagery to solicitors and conveyancers to help them conduct due diligence on properties. They believe satellite imagery can help solicitors and conveyancers in two ways. First, it can be used in conjunction with other datasets, such as our own, to provide comprehensive property insight. This can make it quicker and easier to understand how legal rights and interests relate to physical land and property. Secondly, historic satellite imagery can also be of value purely for the information it conveys. A client looking to acquire or develop a site may have a variety of questions concerning the site’s history, such as the past use and development of the site from an environmental or planning perspective.

Digital Mortgage

Alongside our ongoing work to open our data, our digital team are working to implement new services and systems that will make our customers’ work easier. Our new Digital Mortgage service is a prime example, allowing homeowners to remortgage their property without having to sign a paper document in front of a witness, before posting it to us. The new service allows them to sign their document in a few simple steps at a time that suits them, using GOV.UK Verify to confirm their identity in place of a witness.

We are building a fully digital, machine-readable register to ensure our data can connect with the new systems that conveyancers and lenders use. Underneath all of this, our Digital Street team is consulting with representatives from across the industry to explore how technologies like blockchain, smart contracts and artificial intelligence could be used to make it simpler, faster and cheaper for conveyancers to do their jobs.

This article was published in Geomatics World November/December 2018

Last updated: 05/03/2020