Who owns small, unloved pockets of land in Birmingham’s inner city? Why are so many properties owned by companies located at one address on Jersey? Where’s the most expensive car parking space in England and Wales? Are there a significant number of overseas companies owning land in England and Wales who also appear in the Panama and Paradise Papers?
These were just a few of the questions explored this Tuesday, 12th December by people and groups at Data Unlocked’s Who Owns Birmingham event.
This Tuesday we held our first Who Owns Birmingham event at Innovation Birmingham. This follows the Land Registry’s recent release of data about land and property ownership in England and Wales.
The release includes a little over three and a half million records of land and property in England and Wales owned by companies, local authorities, county councils and other organisations. Private individuals and charities are the two categories not published.
There were attendees from the BBC Shared Data Unit, Birmingham City University’s MA in Data Journalism and Coventry University as well as local social enterprise RnR Organisation and open data and content advocates Gavin Broughton and Andy Mabbett.
We introduced the data, explained what we have done with it to make it more useful and showed some stories that have already been written already about it. Then we split into groups.
Everyone was given access to a couple of files. The first was an extract of land and property in Birmingham owned by companies based in the United Kingdom* and the second was an extract of land and property in Birmingham owned by companies based overseas.
Mike Cummins of Data Unlocked has improved both files by adding latitude and longitude fields for the properties, where possible. This makes it much easier to place them on a map.
It is always a nerve-wracking time just after giving a presentation when asking people to start working with the materials you have presented. I am usually fearful that I’ve been spectacularly unclear and that everyone will look at me with glazed eyes and no clue how to go any further.
This was fortunately not the case on Tuesday. When it came to feedback at the end of the day we learnt the following:
Dan Wainwright from the BBC Shared Data unit was interested in the overseas companies that own parts of Birmingham. He found that over a quarter of them (279) were owned by companies registered in Jersey. By taking his search wider he found that in the whole of England and Wales there are 19630 properties owned by companies based on the island.
This lead him to wonder how many people live on Jersey. He found that it has a population of 100,080. So, for every five people on Jersey there is a property in England and Wales owned by a Jersey based company. He is exploring ways of visualising this and making it relevant to readers.
Claire Wilde and Paul Lynch from the BBC Shared Data Unit looked into this a bit further and discovered that just one address on Jersey was listed for the owners of 52 pieces of land and property in Birmingham, mostly in The Jewellery Quarter. They began looking into the companies involved, making use of Open Corporates and their Investigator’s Handbook.
Annette Belcher from the BBC Shared Data Unit took a different approach. She looked at the cheapest properties in the data. Here she found a lot of car parking spaces being sold. It is not unusual for the leasehold on a car parking spot to cost £5000 to £10000. She is now looking into where the most expensive car parking space is.
The BCU Data Journalism students come from Indonesia, France and Spain and took a suitably international approach to the data. Victoria Oliveres, Carmen Aguilar and Wan Ulfa Nur Zuhra spent the day exploring companies in the overseas data and seeing if they could link them to companies that appear in the Panama or Paradise Papers.
Jonny Jacobson is doing an investigation into corruption into the leading political family in an African nation and used the day to pick up tips on using data skills to help him with that project.
Paul Bradshaw took the overseas company data and visualised the links between the UK and the location of those companies using Flourish.
— Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw) December 12, 2017
Pauline Roche and Ted Ryan from RnROrganisation have a number of potential uses for the data. They are interested in pieces of land in Balsall Heath, Sparkhill and Sparkbrook that could be gardened by local groups. The data provides details of this type of land and its owners, so they can be approached about this idea.
Gavin Broughton arrived after lunch and spent his time loading the data and examining it. He is a data analyst and offered to help people look into the data in more depth.
Andy Mabbett concentrated on the structure and quality of the data itself. He saw that the identifiers for property titles look like they may have a standard format and so he has written a Freedom of Information request to the Land Registry asking for more information, as they are not included in the technical specification.
To quote Andy’s FoI request:
“Example values include “MM786”, “P7073”, “HW8112” and “WM990994”. I wish to know how those identifiers are generated – are they random, or sequential, or is there some meaning to their structure? Do the letters “MM”,”P”, “HW” and “WM” (and others) stand for anything? If so, what?”
This could prove to be useful if there is additional information contained in the identifier that we can unlock.
We really enjoyed the day and are excited to see already such a variety of projects that can make use of the data. We are exploring a number of ways of enhancing the data that we hope might help further investigations. These involve linking this data to other sources, such as:
- Directors and/or officers that are listed against the company on Open Corporates or Companies House
- Identifying the boundaries of properties – at the moment we only have points.
- Adding the prices paid from the Land Registry’s monthly Price Paid Data
We also intend to hold a follow-up event in the New Year. Please let us know if you are interested in attending in the comments. We are also looking for sponsorship for future events.
This event was organised by Data Unlocked in conjunction with ODI Birmingham and the support of the Innovation Engine.
*As I understand it the properties are in England and Wales, the owners can be in Scotland or Northern Island as well.