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Government plans change in law to support National Underground Asset Register

Underground tunnel with pipes
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Changes in legislation have been laid out to support the future operation of the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR).

The UK Government has added amendments to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill to simplify the processes for asset owners to share data through the NUAR – which provides a digital map with details of underground cables and pipes.

The Geospatial Commission has also published a project update and highlighted the expected economic benefits of the register.

A spokesperson told UKAuthority the legislative change, which will go before Parliament this week, will require asset owners from the public and private sectors to share relevant data in a prescribed manner with the NUAR platform and keep it up-to date.

It will also make provision to charge them a membership fee for the service and fine those who do not comply with either of the obligations.

Other elements of legislation will determine who can access NUAR data and for what purposes, and enable ministers to specify other bodies to carry out certain functions where appropriate.

Simplification of sharing

“The measures being sought will update and simplify the way in which asset owners meet this obligation by taking advantage of opportunities provided by data and technology developments since the obligation was originally laid over 30 years ago,” the spokesperson said. 

“They will allow asset owners to share data digitally through a register (rather than having to respond to individual requests). This in turn will give planners and excavators immediate, standardised and comprehensive access to the data they need, when they need it, to carry out their work safely and efficiently.”

Earlier this month, Greater London became the first part of the country in which all major utilities providers and local authorities were providing data to the NUAR.

The programme update says the team has increased its engagement with and made the register available to more asset owners over the past year, having launched the minimum viable product throughout England and Wales. It will be extended to Northern Ireland in spring 2024, with plans to have it fully operational across the three countries by the end of 2025.

A different model is being developed for Scotland.

Technical developments

Work is also taking place on specialised map views to support the display of detailed annotations, custom styling and additional information, and the team plans to publish a harmonised data model based on international standards. These will be accompanied by further development of the data upload service.

In addition, the Geospatial Commission is going to explore the potential market opportunities and benefits in widening access to the NUAR.

It has also said the benefits are expected to total £490 million per year over the next decade through increased efficiencies in construction and development, less accidental damage to pipes and cables, and reduced disruption to the public and businesses.

Viscount Camrose, minister at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said: "The National Underground Asset Register is on track to transform how the UK manages the pipes and cables beneath the ground. Thanks to government working closely with industry, workers across the whole of England and Wales now have data, at their fingertips, about the infrastructure under our feet.

“The register is a prime example of the Geospatial Commission and wider government driving innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new better paid jobs and grow the economy, and I’m delighted that legislative updates are being progressed to support this."

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