Digital map of underground pipes to ‘save lives’

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A digital map of underground pipes and cables is to be produced, to help save lives and reduce the disruption caused when they are struck by mistake

It is estimated that the cost of accidental strikes on underground pipes and cables is £1.2bn a year to the UK’s economy. Workers who hit gas and electric pipes by mistake can also put themselves in danger of death or serious injury.

To help prevent such accidents, the government’s Geospatial Commission has revealed its ambition to bring together the existing data on underground pipes and cables to create an Underground Assets Register. This has begun with pilot projects in London and the North East, to test the feasibility of the project.

Minister for implementation, Oliver Dowden, said: “When workers strike pipes and cables, it risks lives, costs money and causes havoc for residents and road-users.

“Our investment in this cutting-edge underground map is just one way that the government is working smarter, so that we really make a difference to people’s everyday lives.”

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There is currently no comprehensive underground map of the UK’s service network. Different organisations have their own maps showing where such things as gas pipes and electricity cables are, but the lack of a combined map creates an increased risk of potentially lethal accidents.

Work to tackle the problem has so far seen working prototypes created in Sunderland and London. This allows workers to see underground pipes and cables on mobile phones or laptop computers before they start a dig.

David Henderson, the managing director of Ordnance Survey Great Britain, said: “The creation of an underground map of utility assets has long been an ambition of Ordnance Survey. And over the last year we have been working closely with Northumbrian Water and a consortia of utility companies and local authorities in the North East of England, to explore how accurate geospatial data can improve underground infrastructure maintenance and inform new-build development projects.

“The investment being made by the Geospatial Commission will ultimately enable the utility industry to more efficiently access, use and share data describing otherwise hidden infrastructure, thereby reducing operational costs, minimising disruption and accelerating completion of site works.”

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