road works

Shared-data map of buried pipes and cables goes live in three areas

Image credit: Dreamstime

A new digital map of underground utilities has been launched in North-East England, Wales and London to reduce the risk of damage during street works, in the first roll-out of the government's National Underground Asset Register (NUAR).

It is estimated that there are around four million kilometres of buried pipes and cables in the UK, with a hole dug every seven seconds to install, fix, maintain or repair these assets in the water, gas, electricity and telecoms sectors. Each year there are around 60,000 accidental asset strikes, causing around £2.4 billion worth of economic cost, putting workers’ lives at risk and disrupting people’s daily lives.

The NUAR programme is led by the Geospatial Commission, part of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). It is aimed at creating a single, comprehensive data-sharing platform on the location and condition of underground assets.

Its fundamental purpose is to streamline the data-sharing process, reduce the risk of potentially lethal utility asset strikes and promote more efficient management and maintenance of underground assets.

The initial launch of NUAR contains data from the public and private sector organisations that own pipes and cables in North-East England, Wales and London. This includes all of the major energy and water providers, such as Northumbrian Water, Wales and West Utilities, Southern Electric Power Distribution and National Grid, as well as smaller providers of these services, telecommunications companies, transport organisations and local authorities.

Dr Steve Unger, independent commissioner at the Geospatial Commission, said: “This first release of NUAR is a major milestone in a programme that will benefit everyone. By using the power of location data to plan and deliver street-works more effectively, it will improve the efficiency with which we supply essential services and it will minimise the disruption experienced by other road users. We are delighted by the number of asset owners that have recognised the value of working with us, to make the data that they hold more accessible.”

Commenting on the system’s beneifits, Bob Wood, technical systems manager at Darlington Borough Council, said: “Engineers preparing schemes will have instant access to asset owners’ records and will be able to produce a single plan, rather than compiling it from a variety of sources. As an asset owner we will no longer have to answer individual requests for plans. Our records will be in NUAR and obtainable directly from there.”

This first phase is known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Chris Chambers, deputy director of the Geospatial Commission, explained in a blog that it is not the end product, but a stage in the design and development of NUAR as part of an interactive learning process to refine its functionality and processes. At this stage, it is intended to complement existing practices, allowing users to provide feedback and plan for future adoption.

Chambers also stresses that the tool “is never intended to replace requirements for ground investigation and safe digging practices”.

The NUAR will eventually be extended across the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland already has its own similar scheme.

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