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Safety map will pinpoint UK’s million miles of pipes and cables

Monday 21st June 2021 10:53

Thames Water engineers fit a section of water main

A comprehensive map of underground pipes and cables is being developed by Thames Water and other utilities to help keep workers safe and reduce disruption for residents and motorists.  

The National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) will pinpoint the location of the one million miles of sewers, water mains, gas pipes and electricity cables that criss-cross the UK.  

Thames Water alone looks after 68,000 miles of sewers and 20,000 miles of clean water pipes from London in the east to Swindon in the west.  

With so many assets and companies, working underground can be complex, inefficient and dangerous. The estimated economic cost of accidental strikes on pipes and cables is £1.2 billion a year. Workers who strike gas pipes and electric cables by mistake are also at risk of death and serious injury.  

For years, each company used their own maps, but now a taskforce comprising utility firms and the Geospatial Commission is consolidating all the data in one place to make it easier for workers to find out what exactly is below the surface.  

Gareth Mullen, Thames Water’s head of safety, health and wellbeing, said: “This will not only help the water industry, but it will open up a lot of new information for those looking to carry out work in an area, by seeing exactly what is beneath their feet.  

“The sharing of this information will help to enable efficiencies, improve stakeholder engagement and reduce disruption across all works carried out by utility companies – but most importantly it will help us keep our frontline teams safe by giving them more accurate and accessible data.   

“We have helped shape what the environment looks like and what format the information will be provided in, and we’ve influenced other utilities to get involved too.”  

NUAR replaces a proof-of-concept project in London carried out by Thames Water, TfL and the Greater London Authority (GLA) to map underground assets across multiple London boroughs. Since then, the NUAR team at the GLA has been working with more asset owners to map underground data across the entire Greater London region. 

Thalia Baldwin, director of the Geospatial Commission, said: "I want to personally say a big thank you to Thames Water and their contractors who have been participating in our NUAR pilot. The expertise, commitment and dedication shown by them was invaluable in creating successful pilots in the north-east of England and London.   

“NUAR is a key part of the Geospatial Commission work programme in helping to unlock the value of location data for the utilities sector and the pilots informed our work across a number of areas to improve data sharing frameworks, data security, understand the legalities and how data can be brought together from both private and public sectors for public benefit." 

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