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Ordnance Survey to release postcode data?

There have been some pretty exciting announcements during the last few weeks. Alongside those, we’ve also met with the Royal Mail to have a talk about finding a way forward.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a great meeting with the Royal Mail. They explained in some detail the background to these datasets: how they’re maintained, where the data comes from and where money changes hands. It’s all a bit complicated!


During the meeting, there was an epiphany: one of Royal Mail’s representatives realised that because we were distributing latitudes and longitudes, and not the Eastings and Northings that are present in the Postzon dataset, we were actually distributing derived data, and not Postzon data. The upshot being that a single-user licence might be enough for us to operate with the Royal Mail’s blessing.

This led to a lively discussion about whether or not that’d be workable, what the restrictions would be and how much we’d have to pay for it. We thought about crowdsourcing the money to pay for a licence and going back online with real Postzon data.

But then, there was a development. Since the meeting, the Ordnance Survey announced that they’re going to make some mapping and postcode data free for reuse. Exactly what data will be released and how isn’t yet known — so far the only real commitment I’ve seen is to consult — but I’ve been assured by people involved that the question is of how, not if, this data will be released. I think there’s a genuine willingness to make sure it’s done well.

That, combined with the imminent restructuring of Royal Mail’s licensing system, makes us think that we should hang tight for a while. If the Ordnance Survey releases a comprehensive postcode database, will be mostly redundant (about which we’d be very happy). If not, perhaps we’ll have to think again — in which case, we’d be able to look at Royal Mail’s new licensing regime and see what can be made to work.

So — for now, at least — we’re going to sit back and see how things develop. When the Consultation is announced, we’ll be responding to it. I’d encourage anyone who has an opinion on the issue to reply as well.


  1. Tom Hughes wrote:

    The question is, do Ordnance Survey actually have a postcode database that they can release? ie one that is encumbered by data licensed from Royal Mail?

    Somehow I doubt it – my suspicion is that a civil servant somewhere was drawing up a list of data sets the OS could release and saw the OS post code data listed and thought that sounded like a good idea without considering that it might be encumbered.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Harry wrote:

    Tom — Yes. Codepoint. In fact Royal Mail buy location data from OS — not the other way round.

    Really, it’s all very strange.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  3. Gavin Jamie wrote:

    The suggestion that changing to lat/long from eastings and northings changes it to derived data is of course completely mad. That doesn’t mean it is not true though.

    Presumably you could send out eastings and northings in response to a Rot13 of the postcode!

    Friday, December 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  4. GooGeo wrote:

    The thing is this UK post code geo location information is not exactly locked down – Google freely distribute it!
    Had a bit of a play around at the weekend and came up with a homage to your efforts:

    PS: Just reply to this post and let me know if you want me to pull the site – I did this to prove to myself I could, not to steal anybody’s thunder ;-)

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  5. Harry wrote:

    No, no objection — but you should know that (on the insistence of Ordnance Survey), Google’s API returns coordinates that aren’t very precise.

    Yahoo’s is a bit better.

    The bigger problem with both, though, is that they’re rate-limited and restricted by quotaa. So unsuitable if you’re geocoding lots of things every day.

    Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

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  2. Open Government & Open Data | Dafydd Vaughan on Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    [...] More information about the release of post code data can be found on the Ernest Marples blog. [...]