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We're going deeper underground: New digital project to map UK's sub-surface 'assets'

4 million holes dug in the UK each year... many in the wrong place

The UK is pushing ahead with the next phase of a project to map the UK’s underground utility pipes and cables as part of its National Underground Asset Register (NUAR).

It's claimed the new digital map will provide a much-needed resource as housebuilders, developers, utilities, and telcos plan their expansion works and maintenance schedules.

According to government figures, it’s estimated that more than four million holes are dug in the UK each year, many in the wrong place.

The economic cost associated with the absolute clusterf*ck of digging up cables and fracturing pipes that sever essential links leaving people without power, water or broadband accidental utility damage is estimated to be around £2.4bn each year.

Once operational, NUAR is expected to save around £350m a year by "avoiding accidental asset strikes, improving the efficiency of works and better data sharing."

The problem, according to engineers, is particularly acute when building in busy towns and cities or on brownfield sites.

Those behind the project claim fast access to accurate data could save time and money, and reduce the disruption caused in trying to fix leaks, repair cables and put in new infrastructure.

In a statement, Nigel Clifford, deputy chair of the Geospatial Commission, explained that the project was all about "unlocking value from geospatial data" by creating a "shared national data asset of significant value."

The project comes at a time when the UK's telcos are upgrading their infrastructure and rolling out fibre. Openreach is busy targeting rural areas, while Virgin Media/O2 continues to press ahead with its expansion strategy, dubbed Project Lightning, and altnets such as CityFibre continue to dig up roads and pavements to lay their cables.

The project is being overseen by the Geospatial Commission under the gaze of the Cabinet Office. As part of the initial phase, it will work with the Welsh government, Tees Valley Combined Authority in the North East of England, and Greater London Authority before being rolled out to other areas.

Scotland has already implemented a similar map as part of the Scottish Road Works Register.

Details of the project were first announced last year when the Geospatial Commission unveiled a strategy to provide the country with a "coherent national location data framework" by 2025. ®

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