|London Postcode Sectors with more than 5% of regular postcodes mapped on OpenStreetMap.|
See image for copyright notices. All completeness percentages are shown below.
Current State of Postcodes on OSM
|Percentage of regular Great Britain postcodes mapped on OSM|
shown by Postcode Sector.
WE NEED TO DO BETTER THAN THIS!
The map shown above is also available as a PDF file and the raw data as a CSV. To highlight the places which have a reasonable amount of mapping of postcodes, I also show ONLY those places with at least 5% of normal postcodes mapped.
|Same map as before but only showing postal sectors with more than 5% of standard postcodes mapped.|
Eliminating the OdditiesOut of the nearly 1.7 million postcodes quite a few are irrelevant to our quest. It is therefore very useful to identity these oddities and eliminate them from the basic work of assignment. Nearly all oddities (and quite a few useful postcodes) can be identified by being co-located with other postcodes, or from having unusual postcodes. Eliminating them seriously reduces (probably by around 10%) the number of postcodes which need to be included in any address mapping strategy.
OSGB Null IslandAbout 380 postcodes are located at the OSGB grid reference with eastings and northings both 0. This is the local equivalent of Null Island. I have no idea what these postcodes are used for!
Postal Delivery OfficesThe largest group of co-located postcodes represent either post offices (main or general post offices), sorting offices, and delivery offices. These include any postcodes assigned to PO Box addresses and presumably some others used for internal purposes.
I've been using the wonderful todo plugin in JOSM to examine a few of these. Often they are mapped, but I've usually been able to add detail. The most frequently used tag is amenity=post_depot.
When they aren't mapped it is usually very easy to confirm that these locations on industrial estates are owned by the Royal Mail: a large number of red vehicles in the car park is a dead giveaway (Swinton Delivery Office is shown in the above excerpt from Bing Maps).
Large FirmsMost large firms with extensive use of postal services will have not just their own postcodes, but individual postcode districts. Experian and Boots in Nottingham use postcodes in NG80 and NG90 respectively. Similarly DVLA uses SA99. Assuming most postal districts with numeric codes over 50 have such a purpose (the exceptions are probably in the Scottish Highlands) then there are over 100,000 such postcodes.
Not every firm operates this way. I found one on the outskirts of Swindon which is belongs to the Nationwide Building Society. I worked out which firm it was because a friend did some risk management consultancy there in the 1990s!
Local AuthoritiesA number of cases of many postcodes in one place involve the head offices of local authorities. For instance this building in Workington, and Aberdeen council offices. Again I have no idea why this is a feature for only a small number of councils.
Using Centroids DirectlyThere are a number of basic heuristics which can be used for assigning postcodes to houses and streets: unfortunately they often have minor exceptions.
- A house number and a postcode are typically unique. (The exceptions are rare and usually reflect what the Royal Mail refer to as a subsidiary street: my current example is Naranjan Mews off Gedling Grove. In practice these exceptions have more in common with houses divided into flats.) So far I only know of one example of the exception in Nottingham, so perhaps around 1:6000 postcodes.
- A postcode will only refer to one named street. (see above for exceptions). In country areas where streets and roads may not be named then a postcode may cover an entire village (such as Kilchenzie in Argyll).
- Blocks of flats, even when built on a plot where the original housenumber can be inferred will usually have separate postcodes. Beddington Gardens in Wallington, Surrey is an excellent (although somewhat complicated example).
- Named streets with a small number of houses will have only one postcode.
- It is not possible to tell without examining how postcodes are distributed whether postcodes are assigned to even and odd sides of the road or in contiguous blocks along a road. A particular convention tends to be consistent in any one area.
- The postcode centroid is always placed over one of the buildings (delivery points) making up the postcode. This means a certain care needs to be taken in determining to which street a postcode applies.
|Shorter streets in Nottingham: candidates for streets with a single postcode.|
It is important to remember that absolutely accurate assignment of postcodes is relatively unimportant. If one or two houses are assigned to an adjacent postcode it is not going to affect things like navigational use-cases. Furthermore as more open data (see below) becomes available and we make more use of tools such as Open PostcodeFinder then we can refine the accuracy of the assignments iteratively.
Other Available Data
Food HygieneIn my view this is the single most useful source of detailed postcode data. The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme covers most local authorities in the United Kingdom, and at present includes over 400,000 premises where food is sold or prepared. The data set contains over 230,000 individual postcodes (> 15 % of total) with detailed address information. In many cases the premises will already have been mapped on OSM, or can be identified from aerial images or OS OpenData StreetView maps (shops, schools, etc. are usually fairly distinctive). (I don't recommend mapping POI data solely from FHRS because retail POIs tend to change fairly rapidly: I've seen a figure of 20% a year quoted).
London OSM Hack Weekend), and will blog shortly on the details of manipulating the data to get something useful out of it.
Land Registry Price PaidWhilst writing this article, the Land Registry of England and Wales released several years (from 1995) of data of prices paid in property transactions. This data includes addresses and postcodes. It is therefore a very useful complement to the FHRS data as it is mainly concerned with residential rather than private property.
Stop Press: I downloaded this data whilst finishing off some maps for this blog. It is very useful: providing the associated street for over 1 million postcodes in England and Wales.
Other Open DataAny other source of open data which contains addresses with postcodes can be used to assist resolving postcodes. Nottingham Open Data, for instance, includes Licensed Premises, Planning Applications, Places of Worship, Community Centres, Schools, Childcare facilities etc.
Basic Postcode Assignment
|Postcode centroids for part of the Daybrook area of Nottingham.|
Lines show roads closest to postcode centroids.
|Comparison of calculated postcode centroids from OSM (red) from original postcode centroids (blue).|
Postcodes were deduced from open postcode centroid data and assigned to
individual properties as these were mapped in OSM.
Setting some targetsI suggest four targets for the medium term (say through the end of 2014).
|London Postcode Sectors with all percentage regular postcodes mapped on OpenStreetMap.|
See image for copyright notices.
- The simplest, but not necessarily the easiest target, is to map at least one postcode in each postcode sector. This is harder than it appears because obvious things to map in sparsely populated rural areas may require surveys. For instance FHRS data has two B&Bs in Port Wemyss on Islay, but the names are not shown on the OS Open Data StreetView. Similarly a degree of caution must be exercised on farms in the Rhinns of Isaly and on the Oa because individual farmsteads may include two or three properties (perhaps all owned by the same extended family, but nonetheless distinct.
- Achieve 5% completion. This reflects a DOUBLING of current postcode data, and therefore must be regarded as ambitious. This is however, the minimum condition for breaking the back of the postcode problem. I believe with a concerted effort we could achieve this in 3 months, using conventional crowd-sourcing techniques.
- Achieve 10% completion. A second doubling will probably require more tool based support. The obvious targets are semi-automated matching of FHRS & Land Registry data, and semi-automated identification of single postcode streets.
- Postcodes along major roads (A & B roads). These may require some survey work, but again because many retail outlets are along such roads there is already a decent amount of information available from FHRS.