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Gov Start Build of Project to Map UK Underground Cables and Pipes UPDATE

Thursday, Sep 9th, 2021 (8:28 am) - Score 5,760

The UK Government has announced that their project to create a National Underground Asset Register (NUAR), which reflects a digital map of underground pipes (water etc.) and cables (fibre optic broadband, power etc.), is entering the “Build Phase” and could help to cut some of the £2.4bn (per year) cost of accidental utility damage.

According to the Government, there is huge potential for location data to improve the way that national infrastructure is planned, built and managed, from informing where our future “gigabit-capable” and “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband and 5G mobile networks need to go, to planning how and where to connect utilities, and designing new housing developments.

Back in 2018 an initial analysis of the proposals suggested that a project like NUAR could, by creating more accessible and better quality location data in infrastructure and construction, be worth over £4 billion per year to the UK economy.

Meanwhile, today’s update claims that 4 million holes are dug in the UK each year and “many in the wrong place“, which can result in accidental damage to things like water mains and core fibre optic broadband ISP cables (this often takes many hours, days or sometimes even weeks to completely fix). Such issues are most common in dense urban areas, such as cities and towns.

The economic cost of accidental utility damage is around £2.4bn each year (curiously, this has doubled from last year’s estimate of £1.2bn), while it’s estimated that NUAR, once operational, could deliver around £350m per year in benefits by “avoiding accidental asset strikes, improving the efficiency of works and better data sharing.”

NUAR’s Prototype System Interface


The good news is that, after several years of preparation, research and design, the NUAR project is now finally moving into its build phase. NUAR’s digital map will, over the next 3 years, be built in partnership between the industry and government, starting in the North East of England, Wales and London (Northern Ireland to follow). Meanwhile, Scotland has already built a similar map via the Scottish Road Works Register.

NOTE: The Geospatial Commission will be working with the Welsh government, Tees Valley Combined Authority and Greater London Authority to deliver this programme.

Lord True CBE, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said:

“I am delighted to launch the build phase of the UK’s new National Underground Asset Register. This new digital map of the UK’s underground utilities assets demonstrates our commitment to putting innovation at the forefront of the UK’s economic recovery and ambition to Build Back Better.”

Nigel Clifford, Deputy Chair of the Geospatial Commission, said:

“Unlocking value from geospatial data is the heart of the UK’s Geospatial Strategy. Our National Underground Asset Register will be a momentous step towards providing the UK with a shared national data asset of significant value. I am proud of the collaboration with industry that we have so far established as part of our preparatory work and look forward to it continuing.”

Following a competitive procurement round, the Geospatial Commission appointed Atkins to deliver the Build Phase of NUAR, which consists of building a production minimal viable product for the North East of England, Wales and London, before then enhancing and rolling it out to the remaining regions in England and to Northern Ireland.

On the surface this is a positive project, although the Government does rather make it sound as if nothing like this has existed before, which isn’t correct. For example, the LSBUD (Line Search Before You Dig) service already provides an online asset search facility for UK civil engineering firms to check underground pipes and cables, which last year handled about 3 million total searches across all covered sectors (representing 77% of all UK digging work).

The Managing Director of LSBUD, Richard Broome, last year complained that the Government were portraying the industry as a “dis-jointed community that is selfishly costing the country millions every week by not working together,” which he said “completely [ignored] the community and service already successfully in place which LSBUD has created” (this covers 90+ asset owners who are sharing their underground asset data with over 120,000 registered users – used by the majority, but not ALL, of the industry).

At this point, it’s difficult to know whether what the Government are creating via NUAR will go beyond that of LSBUD, but that does appear to be the intention. Broome also made the fair point that it’s difficult to accurately estimate how much accidental damage to pipes and cables costs the industry each year because there’s no regulated reporting of such things, thus the Government’s figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. But those figures form a big part of the basis for investing public money to build NUAR. Only time will tell whether that investment truly makes a positive impact vs the existing approaches.

UPDATE 18th Oct 2021

Ordnance Survey has confirmed that they’re working with Atkins to build the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) for the UK.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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7 Responses
  1. Avatar photo John Nolan says:

    Call me a cynic, but this is perfectly timed for the work being done by the VOA on reviewing hereditament taxation. Apart from MY cynicism, this is a good move, IMHO.

  2. Avatar photo a welshman says:

    bt/openreach has been using these type of maps for years . network records

    1. Avatar photo RobC says:

      Have you seen the state of OR’s mapping system? Some of it is an absolute shambles.

  3. Avatar photo Chris says:

    Who’s job will it be to update the map records?

    Civils happen all the time, I’ve requested hundreds of miles of civils for wan connections for various companies I’ve worked for over the last 20 years. I assume OpenReach & C&W have those details.

    What of the civils the alt nets have been digging, what happens when they go bust or get acquired?

    1. Avatar photo A says:

      “Who will update the map records” – they already have to apply to the council before carrying out the works, requiring them to update the records isn’t much effort.

  4. Avatar photo Mark Scott says:

    I am sure many people on this site knows the difference between a pipe and a cable.

  5. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Good luck with your project in Nottinghamshire guys! Here our incompetent councils dig up the same roads at least 20 times a year, sometimes one company will dig it up, lay pipes, the the following week they’ll dig up the same bit for a different service!

    But if you’ve got a caved in sewer causing a huge pothole, you can forget it, they’ll not touch an issue like that with a barge pole when they can throw some tarmac in it, it’ll solve the issue for a couple of days before it drops down the same depth as you’ve filled it!

    It’ll be like painting the forth bridge, The project will never be anywhere near accurate.

Comments are closed

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