SHAY ARTHUR discusses the crucial role of information and communications technology, in particular digital mapping, in the work of the Property Registration Authority.
The Property Registration Authority (PRA) was established on November 4, 2006, under the provisions of the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006. The main functions of the PRA are to manage and control the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds, and to promote and extend the registration of ownership of land. The PRA also operates the Ground Rents Purchase Scheme under the Landlord and Tenant Acts.
The PRA contributes to the Irish economy by providing a comprehensive and reliable system of registration of title to land, which secures property rights and facilitates property transactions. Its primary statutory remit is to complete the Irish Land Register, leading to a single system of title registration. The system of registration offered by the PRA provides a comprehensive record, which is clear, easily accessible, minimises risk of fraud and responds to customer needs.
Compulsory registration will soon apply in all of the 26 counties; Dublin and Cork are the final two counties and will be added in June 2011.
Investment in technology
As a result of a major investment in information and communications technology (ICT) over the last decade, the PRA has developed extensive online services, which are made available through its www.landdirect.ie service. During 2010 alone, over three million transactions were processed through this web portal.
The overall modernisation programme within the PRA has involved over 30 individual projects, the culmination of which has been digital mapping. Collectively, these initiatives have enabled a move from a national paper-based register of ownership of property to a world-class, state-of-the-art electronic register, resulting in Ireland’s first comprehensive online national database of land-related information. The completion of the digital mapping project brings to a successful conclusion one of the largest and most complex technology projects undertaken in Irish government in recent years. The project took seven years to complete, from design to final implementation, with the digitisation of the paper maps undertaken on a county by county basis over a five-year period.
Why digital mapping?
Since its foundation in 1892, the Land Registry had built up a map base of over 36,000 paper map sheets, mostly of A0 size. The map sheets were maintained referencing a variety map series, projections and scales ranging from 1/10,560 scale County Series maps up to 1/2,500 and 1/1,000 scale Irish Grid maps that had been published by Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) during the past 119 years.
It had become increasingly difficult to maintain the register in paper form due to a number of factors, such as the damage caused by natural wear and tear through extensive use over many decades, and a lack of the resources necessary to update the register in a paper base environment, as new editions of OSi mapping were being produced on a yearly basis in urban areas and on a three- to five-yearly basis in peri-urban and rural areas. One of the objectives of the digital mapping project was to secure this unique and historical mapping archive. Other key outcomes included providing faster and better service delivery, making better use of staff resources, and delivering improved statistical and reporting control over the Land Register.
There were of course external pressures for the Registry to modernise and make its information available in electronic form. It would not be possible, for example, to deliver on Government initiatives such as eRegistration or eConveyancing, or to contribute to ISDI (Irish Spatial Data Infrastructure), nor would the organisation be able to respond to European initiatives such as INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) or EULIS (European Land Information Service) without converting to an electronic register.
What forms the Land Register?
The Land Register consists of textual and spatial information (folios and maps). The land in each county is divided into Folios, one for each individual ownership or title. Much of the information that is stored in the database is displayed on the Folio. The Folio consists of three parts. Part I is a description of the property, Part II lists the registered owner(s) of the property and Part III describes servient rights, charges against the property, etc., if such rights are registered. The Register is open to all and can be inspected by anyone who wishes to enquire about property.
Just as in the paper environment, OSi continues to supply the PRA with the base map. Now, however, it is delivered in the form of vector data referencing the Irish Transverse Mercator (ITM) co-ordinate reference system. The OSi data was delivered as 14,000 tiles in NTF format, which was converted to Oracle SDO_GEOMETRY objects using Safe Software’s FME. The processed OSi vector dataset contains 48.6 million SDO_GEOMETRY objects, including lines, polygons, symbols and text. The size of the OSi dataset in Oracle storage terms is 13GB, with an additional 4GB for the spatial indices. The OSi ITM referenced dataset was selected because it is compatible with ETRF95 and WGS84, as no transformations are necessary for GPS users. It’s a more accurate co-ordinate reference system, with the result that mapping distortions are minimised. In addition to the vector dataset, the PRA also purchased OSi orthophotography and the OSi/An Post GeoDirectory address point database.
In order to manage the data capture of over two million registered parcels, it was necessary to firstly create a link between the Folio and the properties that up to this point were marked on the paper maps. This was done by firstly digitising a seedpoint (geographical link) onto geo-positioned scanned images of the Registry’s paper maps, and secondly, once the link to the Folio was created, the associated land parcels were digitised.
The key to accessing Land Registry spatial data (or if required to do so, any other attribute data affecting property or interests in property) is through the seedpoint.
A new practitioner’s guide is available at www.prai.ie, together with appendices that outline current requirements for interacting with the Land Registry in the new digital mapping environment. The site also provides a number of training guides (Select ‘Online Services’ and then ‘Training Guides’) for customers.
Digital mapping has vastly improved the capacity of the PRA to process applications faster and to cope with the diminishing staff numbers and reduced financial resources available to the organisation. The project has also increased the responsiveness and flexibility of the organisation as customers can now lodge electronic (CAD) versions of application maps. Significantly higher levels of casework productivity are being achieved, resulting in faster turnaround times for applications. Customers can access spatial data for the entire country (572,274 open map page requests and 446,361 select seedpoint requests were made online during 2010 alone), carry out map searches online using GeoDirectory to search by address, view registered properties overlaid on aerial photography, and order copies of Folios and map products online. Digital mapping has enabled the PRA to replace what was a highly labour-intensive manual method of preparing filed plan maps with new hard copy products. There are now three separate products – Special Registration Map, Title Plan map and Official Search Map – all of which are generated automatically by the system.
The PRA’s digital mapping system has been delivering on its objectives since the first phase went live in 2005. It continues to deliver clear and ongoing advantages for the organisation and its customers, and is an excellent example of an investment in infrastructure that will benefit the citizen and the State for many years to come.
Digital mapping – facts and figures
Number of parcels digitised: 2.8 million
Number of boundaries digitised: approximately 16 million
Projected cost of project: €31 million
Actual cost of project: €25 million