12 Jul 2023

The government’s emerging database service is set to improve safety by providing secure access to underground utilities network data. Planners and excavators will now be able to access essential information more easily, enabling them to carry out their work more effectively. Will Auloni, Head of Utilities at Whitecode discusses why this is a ground-breaking move for the built environment industry.

The UK government’s Geospatial Commission has launched the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR). NUAR is a digital map of underground gas pipes, water mains, power cables and sewers which currently covers North East England, Wales and London. This will be revolutionary in the way our underground infrastructure is installed, maintained, operated and repaired.

The UK currently has over four million kilometres of underground pipes and cables. Incidents where these pipes and cables are accidentally struck are commonplace, totalling an immense 600,000 cases each year. The lack of reliable, accessible data is typically responsible for exposing teams to onsite danger. This is a serious concern with 70 people a year on average being seriously injured by coming into contact with electricity cables. Accidental cable and pipes being struck can also lead to serious issues such as floods and power cuts, costing the UK economy up to £2.4 billion annually.

NUAR aims to change this by creating a standardised interactive digital map of buried assets. The database combines over 650 sources to provide up-to-date, consistent information including data not only from all the major energy and water companies, but also smaller and public sector organisations. As a result, planners and excavators in the field will be able to access an extensive view of data.

This is a revolutionary map, allowing planners to easily look up the network beneath the relevant site, giving them immediate access to every pipe and cable below. To say that the four million kilometres of pipes and cables beneath the ground in the UK is vast is an understatement – this length could be wrapped around the planet 35 times. Therefore, mapping this underground infrastructure is an impressive feat that will change the way we plan utilities.

At present, the information is the preserve of more than 650 asset owners across the public and private sectors including energy, water and telecom companies. Although the companies are required by law to share their information for the purpose of safe digging, obtaining this data can be a complicated process. Every time a company needs to carry out a repair, maintenance work or an upgrade, they must contact the individual organisation for its plans, which can take days. When the information is provided, it is often presented in varied formats, scales and quality making it difficult to implement.

NUAR is a much-needed initiative that will provide standardised information, resulting in fewer accidents and less disruption. Crucially, this will improve safety by preventing dangerous and costly accidental strikes from taking place. Additionally, NUAR acts much like a golden thread for utility professionals, as the digital map will be constantly updated, enhancing communication between parties and improving data quality as time goes on. It will also save money by reducing build delays.

NUAR is currently a BETA service and will be iteratively enhanced in line with user feedback. Although it is still a work in progress, this is a huge step for the industry which will greatly improve the scope of utilities planning, helping to keep workers safe, as well as saving on project time and costs.



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