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New tool to track corporate property ownership

View of London skyline from Peckham station
View of London skyline from Peckham station

Author: Anna Powell-Smith, director of the Centre for Public Data

Anna Powell-Smith, director of the Centre for Public Data, introduces a new tool launching soon to help campaigners understand corporate ownership of properties across London.

Here at the Centre for Public Data, we’re a non-profit that works for stronger public data, particularly to help civil society and campaigning organisations. 

We’re especially interested in housing data, and how it can support a fairer, safer housing market. Finding out who owns land and property in the UK can be difficult - but understanding property ownership can help campaigners working on a whole host of issues.

Better data can also help us understand how much property is owned by offshore companies, and how property ownership is changing across the capital.

To this end, Trust for London has supported us to develop research and experimental tools using new transparency data about property ownership, to support people working to improve housing in the UK.

As part of this, we’ve been working on a tool to explore corporate property ownership. But before we publicly launch the tool, if you’re working to improve our housing, we’d like your help!

Why make it easier to access land data?

We’ve spoken to some people working in this area, who told us they’d like to be able to see:

  • which property and land in their area is owned by corporate owners, whether UK or overseas
  • which properties or land a UK or overseas company owns.

Making it easier to find this out can help campaigners who are investigating a particular company; help people understand how land is owned in their area; or it could even or it could help tenants get together to negotiate with their landlord (like New York’s Who Owns What tool).

In theory, you can now find some of this out using new data on corporate ownership that’s published by Land Registry. But the data that’s available is unwieldy, with millions of rows. It’s not in a user-friendly format, and not easy to map. So really, only nerds use it at the moment.

If you have lots of money, you could also pay for a tool like LandInsight or Orbis - but these tools are aimed at companies or lawyers. And while exciting new tools for nonprofits are starting to spring up - particularly LandExplorer, which is great for understanding land usage - we felt there was a gap for a search tool focused on corporate ownership.

So based on what we learned from campaigners, we’ve developed a very simple ‘alpha’ to present these millions of Land Registry entries in a more usable way. (‘Alpha’ means that this is a prototype, but hopefully is still useful!)

We’ve been using this in our own research - and now we’d like to hear what you think about it.

What can the tool do?

At the moment, using the simple alpha, you can search for properties in England and Wales that are registered to UK or overseas companies.

You can search by property postcode, or address, like this. This will just show you any matching titles registered to a corporate owner:

A screenshot of Centre for Public Data's tool, showing a search for property titles in WC1A 1HB.

You can also search for a particular company by name or company number, and see a list of everything they own. For example, here’s a search for Tesco Stores Limited: 

A search of Centre for Public Data's property ownership tool showing property titles owned by Tesco.

And finally - this is the most experimental part! - you can explore a map (currently London-only), to see which titles are registered to UK or overseas corporate owners, and who they are.

For example, here’s Knightsbridge, with the map showing high levels of UK corporate ownership (in orange) and overseas corporate ownership (in yellow):

Map of Knightsbridge showing type of ownership of each property. There is high numbers of corporate ownership, both offshore and UK.

And here’s an area of East London - this shows high levels of local authority ownership (in pink), plus properties registered to individuals (in purple):

A map of Haggerston showing property ownership in the area - large amounts of LA and individual ownership.

We need you!

Now, we need your feedback. Firstly, we want to understand if this is useful - and if not, why not. Secondly, there are plenty of other features we could add - like the names of company directors - but we only want to do this if they’re useful. 

So we’re looking for users to give us feedback on what does and doesn’t work for them, and what they’d like to be able to do and why. 

The agreement we have the data under means we aren’t intending to make this fully public at the moment, but if you’re working to improve housing in the UK, and you’d like to try the alpha and give us some feedback, please get in touch! 

You can get in touch at contact@centreforpublicdata.org: we’d love to hear from you.

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