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back to article UK government rebuffs cries for free postcode database

Number 10 has responded negatively to a petition signed by over 2,000 people that asked the government to convince the Royal Mail to offer a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites. Sadly, a day is a long time on the internet, and following yesterday's data.gov.uk love-in, Prime Minister Gordon Brown today …

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Bit of a U-Turn then

Postcode data to be free in 2010 on the Beeb 9th December:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8402327.stm

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FAIL

Daft decisions all round

So the council designates the land, the OS map the reality and royal mail provide a piddling 6 or 7 letter code and then use the OS data and sell it to us. How does this equate to "Royal Mail invests significantly in collating and maintaining the Postcode Address File"? Do they use golden keyboards to type in the addresses?

Surely OS are the ones actually sending people out, and street names and house numbers are supplied to the Royal Mail by the council, so they do the hard work, but even then, we own Royal Mail.

Any which way you look at it, it's public data. It should be on data.gov.uk.

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Now hang on.........

At the tail end of last year didn't they say and I quote...

"Following a brief consultation, the postcode information is set to be freed in April 2010. "

So a complete u-turn then.

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Alert

OpenStreetAddress

OpenStreetAddress.org perhaps? a sister site of openstreetmap? The UK gov just doesn't get freedom, much in the same way that they don't get computermatures.

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I guess what you are looking for...

I guess what you are looking for is http://freethepostcode.org/ ?

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Hmmmm...

It seems to be a word for word copy of the response the Free PAF petition got earlier last year, as well as the letter I got from Lord Young, the minister for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations. Methinks some lackey at Number 10 has seen 'postcodes', reached for the file marked 'standard postcode rebuttal' and copied and pasted it without looking at the issues properly.

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Money, money, money.

Roughly translated from Brown-speak....... No, you cannot have it free; I intend to sell it as yet another asset from which I can make money to help my desparate budgets.

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Hardly surprising

This is the No. 10 Peitition website where the PM dismissed one that got into the top 10 (namely: for him to 'eff off) by saying that he is committed to blah blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....................

Democracy in (in)action.

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@U-turn

According to the Beeb report of 9th Dec, the information to be freed is the database relating postcodes to geographical locations, whereas the PAF relates postcodes to street addresses... So if someone else can convert geographical locations to street addresses (do I hear the name 'Google'?) then the PAF could be bypassed.

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Anonymous Coward

Love this business model

I think the train companies should try it next:

1) Assign all trains an arbitrary number.

2) Provide a look up table in train stations.

3) Sell access to the look up tables to anyone outside of a station.

Or doctors:

1) Assign all prescriptions an arbitrary number.

2) Provide local pharmacy with look up table.

3) Sell access to all other pharmacies.

Or DVLA:

1) ...oh, wait...

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You may joke...

I'm waiting for the train companies to go back to using their own local times. "We want to monetize our temporal base," said Harvey Fatcat Cream-Skimmer, friend of the Minister for Privatisation.

"Fail" as in the Royal Fail, of course.

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Coffee/keyboard

@ AC - Love this business model → #

pɹɐoqʎǝʞ ʍǝu ɐ ǝɯ ǝʍo 'ɹıs noʎ

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Doesn't It Make You...

...proud to be British.

OK we can't actually find out where Britain *is* anymore (without paying for it) but I suppose this is what happens when we put our trust in democratically elected leaders. Oh, hang on...

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Meh!

Looks like we need to keep contributing to http://www.freethepostcode.org/ then... (@Martin Owens this is the OpenStreetMap for postcodes). Just wonder if RM will start shouting "it's still our data, even though its independently compiled."

I'll agree the postcode database costs money to compile (although it was mostly compiled before RM became a PLC), but it is not being compiled to make money - it's being compiled and updated to help RM reduce their costs by helping their postmen and women and the routing of mail. That's why they produce the data - to save them money: so how does it cost them so much to burn a CD every so often for distribution?...

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Most businesses don't need the WHOLE postcode

You go to a site that has branches, and it insists on you telling it your WHOLE postcode (with obvious privacy implications) before it will give you the nearest branches, despite the fact that the four nearest branches will be exactly the same four nearest branches as everybody else in the same postcode sector.

So, why not have a reasonable compromise -- make the positional data on the first half ot the postcode sector (eg EN8) public domain, but charge for more detailed positional breakdown below that level.

This would, hopefully, mean that webmasters start making use of the free data wherever possible, so that we can put in our postcode as EN8 or similar without it complaining that EN8 is not a valid postcode.

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FAIL

It's decisions like this......

...that Wikileaks was designed for.

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Anonymous Coward

Has Mr. Insincere UK

responded positively to any of them apart from the posthumous apology to Turing: one that cost him nothing but would promise to put him in a favourable light? Let's face it, the petitions to No. 10 are just used by Brown as a think tank for ideas for PR stunts.

Just picture that pathetic fake smile of his and call him "Cupid" and that'll put the Gordon Brown stunt in perspective.

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Silver badge

One way or another, you pay for it.

Royal mail can sell this data at a reasonable price, set by the independent regulator and use the profit to subsidise the cost of postage. Or it can give it way for free and recoup the cost through government subsidy or higher postage.

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PAF

The PAF is a pile of shite any way.

It's full of known inaccuracies that Royal Mail simply refuse to correct.

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Anonymous Coward

Sod the PAF - it's only POSTCODE we need free

The PAF is irrelevant anyway, since NLPG is a much more accurate property list and that has nothing to do with the Post Office. In any case it is only really the postcode table itself that is of any real use when looking up addresses.

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I agree!

The RM has spent and continues to spend money on the PAF - just because it was initially compiled to reduce their own operating costs there is no reason why they shouldn't use it to generate income within reason. If anyone else wants to spend the time/money to create their own database from scratch then they are free to do so, then they can give it away for free, or maybe they could come up with their own unique postal code system to compete with RM - it's all a part of what is called a free market economy!

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Paris Hilton

Questionable?

How much would that add to have a gps device that uses Ordnance Survey stuff and postcode stuff?

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Stop

PAF = Red Herring

The PAF is a red herring, to make it easy for the Govt to say "No, it costs too much to give away". PostZon data (postcode to grid reference, 100m resolution) is all that's needed to locate you by your postcode accurately enough for most uses. Keep PAF as a commercial product (it's the one that needs the most updating) and let people use PostZon freely.

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Say what?

I don't quite get it.

If you want to post a letter, and for the purposes of postal efficiency, you also should supply a postcode that is tied to the suburb in question, you need to pay, because now you're using Royal Mail intellectual property to look up a database of suburbs and post codes..

However, it would be still legal sendable mail, (and cheaper for the poster), and since you don't *NEED* to supply a post code anyway (because Royal Mail can work it out themselves) - then just don't.

I imagine a month, or even a week of mail with no postcodes would render the Royal Mail so far backed up, they would surely reconsider their new money-making scheme...

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Anonymous Coward

Costs

The primary reason for the existence of the PAF is to enable the RM to do their job in distributing mail and to do it efficiently.

The argument that RM incurs significant costs in maintaining, gathering information for the PAF is not a valid argument. They have to maintain it to enable their business to run.

Giving away the information free to the public should be perfectly acceptable. They won't incur costs by doing this. Simply export and ftp the database dump, where's the cost in that? Particularly when it's automated using scripts.

The only issue RM should have, is ensuring they've not losing a revenue stream by giving the data away to customers that currently pay for it.

And the public don't pay for it.

Any applications which want to look up postal codes, names, addresses will do so via an API, continue to make that chargeable. Change the license agreement with their customers such that are barred from using the information freely available on the web intended for free public consumption. What's the problem?

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Black Helicopters

Web subversion?

A Blog where people can anonymously list their own postcodes might be enough over time to render the for-fee model unusable.

Subversion by Web?

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It already exists

http://freethepostcode.org/ - All Ernest Marples did was query this, and if a postcode wasn't listed, it used the Yahoo or Google APIs to get at the data. Not rocket science, but the Royal Mail took exception to it. It was an exceptional bit of trolling that was pretty effective in opening up the debate, albeit at the expense of a few useful sites.

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Anonymous Coward

The Railways already do this (as well!)

The railways have a nice setup - all tickets have validity conditions (defining the times they're valid).

In order to view those validity conditions for yourself, you have to buy a certain piece of software (granted it's only £10 - but it changes every 3 months!). None of the websites will tell you in full - but they do form a part of your conract!

I'm also wondering how far a court case challenging the definition of "reasonable terms" in the requirements for Royal Mail to distribute the PAF would get.

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National Fares Manuals

It used to be that National Fares Manuals were bought by many local libraries and you could go and look up the validity conditions (often referred to as "restrictions").

Then, to save money and trees (and also allow for more frequent price-setting as the manuals were many and large and took time to produce), the printed National Fares Manuals were aboloshied (thanks to a change in the way they were produced - they were typset then this was changed to electronic editing which led to easier Web presentation.).

So why on earth is not a read-only version made available on the web ? In fact, the entire National Fares Manuals used to be available in PDF form on the web - now I can only find old information - I have no idea why the industry wants to hide the information here is some old NFM info:

http://www.atoc.org/retail/_downloads/NFM98/NFM98_Common_D.pdf

Similary for Royal Mail - why not a Web Service be made available ? Get the government to increase their subsidy by £250,000 - that should cover the cost.

NB - worst error code encountered on the web:

"Either BOF or EOF is True, or the current record has been deleted. Requested operation requires a current record.

/includes/head.asp, line 17 "

from: http://www.atoc.org/retail/

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Jobs Horns

FreeThePostcode!!

Everyone needs to get out there with their GPS and take readings for their postcode then upload to freethepostcode.org

In the 2 years or so since I started uploading I've seen the data improve hugely. However it's all based on longitude/latitude so not entirely complete.

We want address lookup/reverse address lookup. At the moment I use the Google Maps API for that since our usage is relatively light.

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Anonymous Coward

Its on the web anyway

I found a copy on the web. Big file (nearly 240MB) but each record is 135 characters and if all you need is the 7 character code plus 8 character grid reference (a 100metre square is probably good enough, especially when you consider that in scotland a postcode can cover hundreds of square miles) so the record size need only be 15 characters

i.e. instead of

"AB101AA","20070339","39420","80630","00","QA","MH","1","1","179","1","SN9","S00",-2.097472,57.147616,"NJ9420006300","08/07/09 00:00:00"

use

AB101AA NJ942063

you get a file of about 27MB, not much bigger if you use Lat, Lon.

(full column headings: PZ_Postcode,PZ_IntroductionDate,PZ_GridRefEast,PZ_GridRefNorth,PZ_County,PZ_District,PZ_Ward,PZ_UserType,PZ_GridStatus,PZ_Country,PZ_WardStatus,PZ_NHS_Code,PZ_NHS_Region,PZ_Long,PZ_Lat,PZ_OSRef,PZ_Update)

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Anonymous Coward

Grid References

How many times people?

The PAF has nothing to do with OS grid references (or any other grid reference) it's street addresses. Any decent mapping software can do geographical postcode lookups already.

The reason the PAF is not free is because of all the businesses who use house name/number and postcode to generate full addresses simply to speed up their processes.

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