Going underground at the NWG Innovation Festival

We have to say, the Northumbrian Water Group Innovation Festival is a truly unique event. It focuses on several societal and environmental issues and, throughout the five day festival, those involved apply design thinking techniques to try and solve them.

Naturally, we have jumped at the chance to get involved. As geospatial data and mapping experts, we are addressing the issue of whether an underground map of the UK can be created. As part of the ‘Combined Underground Infrastructure Map’, we will be leading a sprint team to explore the possibility and consequent benefits of creating a collaborative underground dataset and map of the UK.

Did you know, there are more than 1.5 million kilometres of underground services in the UK? This includes water, sewer, gas and electricity services and, on top of all that, there is an estimated four million kilometres or more of data lines!The lack of coordination and collaboration in underground services has many cost implications. The Department of Transport estimates that street works account for an annual cost of £4.3 billion and, if that wasn’t enough, in 2013 the Treasury calculated that greater cross-infrastructure collaboration could save the economy around £3 billion.

Due to the absence of a single complete underground infrastructure map, utility and infrastructure companies have the challenge of finding out what is underground prior to any digging. Despite this being time consuming and inefficient, it is essential for supplying their crucial utility services.

Although most utility and energy companies have their own network maps, they’re not uniform and not all digitised. As well as benefitting these companies, solving this issue would also aid the transport sector, street works planners, building developers and the public sector.

In collaboration with the British Geological Survey and Future Cities Catapult, we are working on Project Iceberg. Together, we are exploring how to better capture, collect and share data on underground assets and geological conditions.

Carsten Roensdorf, our Spatial Infrastructure Lead said: “Not knowing what’s buried and where it’s buried causes significant and unnecessary disruption, delays in street works, possible damage to other utilities and needless extra repair and compensation costs. It also disadvantages strategic network planning, as utilities often don’t have full and accurate location information across their asset portfolio and presents health and safety risks to utility employees and the public.”

NWG’s Operations Solutions Manager Clive Surman-Wells said: “This has never been fully done before in this country.  The possibilities of what we can unlock through this sprint are mind blowing and this could turn on its head the way infrastructure companies work together in this country work forever. … Ordnance Survey is absolutely the partner of choice to be leading the sprint with its proven Geovation approach.”

To find out what our sprint team comes up with during the festival, follow all the action with us and Northumbrian Water.

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