The National Underground Asset Register is launched

The Geospatial Commission has launched a new digital map of the underground pipes and cables buried across England and Wales to support economic growth, improve safety and reduce delays.

The National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) allows data to be shared between public and private organisations to create safer and more efficient maintenance work on underground assets.

The NUAR, which has been launched in its first phase of development - known as the minimum viable product (MVP) -  is currently in service across three areas: North East England, Wales and London. Future releases will cover the rest of England and Northern Ireland. 

The platform currently includes data from over 80 asset owners across these areas, as well as those working on their behalf, such as utility companies, local authorities and transport operators. These organisations get access to a standardised single platform, which enables them to maintain data related to underground pipes and cables for safe digging. It will also allow them to update information and improve data quality.

The NUAR's rollout will support government's ambitions to grow the economy by accelerating projects like new roads, new houses and broadband roll-out.

Once fully operational across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the platform is  expected to deliver at least £350 million per year of economic growth through increased efficiency, reduced asset strikes and reduced disruptions for people and businesses.

The Geospatial Commission was established in 2018 and is responsible for the UK’s geospatial data and strategy. The team launched a couple of pilot projects between 2019 and 2020 to test the potential of a digital platform mapping out all the buried cables and data assets across England and Wales, and create a prototype system.

It is worth noting that Scotland already benefits from a similar system and the Geospatial Commission has worked closely with colleagues in the Scottish Government on the development.

The team has been testing the NUAR service with over 40 users for the last four months in preparation for the launch.

An ‘agile’ rollout 

As noted, the MVP is not a final end product, it is the first stage in the design and development of NUAR involving real users.

Chris Chambers, Deputy Director for NUAR Delivery, explained why the team decided to launch an MVP, rather than wait and deliver a fully operational service in the future: “using agile methods means getting real people using your service as early as possible. Then making improvements through the lifetime of the service.”

Whilst the MVP can be used in business as usual practices, it is intended to complement rather than replace them at this stage, allowing users to plan for future adoption and provide further feedback to improve the service. 

A 'major milestone' 

"This first release of NUAR is a major milestone in a programme that will benefit everyone," said Dr Steve Unger, Independent Commissioner, Geospatial Commission.

"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. Many different asset types are buried beneath our feet, owned by many different organisations, large and small. We are delighted by the number of asset owners that have recognized the value of working with us, to make the data that they hold more accessible."

What comes next? 

Work is already underway for the development of new features, alongside the refinement of existing ones. Furthermore, additional asset owner datasets will be added in the three initial areas, as well as improvements to data currency. 

Coverage in the remaining areas of England and Northern Ireland will be increased iteratively - as and when there is enough critical mass of data. 

“This release is just the start!” Dr Unger said. “We have already received data from over 100 more organisations, and we are working with many more than that to progress their involvement in the programme. I urge any asset owner that is not yet engaging with us to do so as soon as possible, to start benefiting from the service and ensure it best meets their needs.”

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