A pioneering underground digital map system that will help improve safety conditions for workers and reduce the time that the public are inconvenienced by roadworks has launched in the North East.


The innovative project is being led by Northumbrian Water and Ordnance Survey (OS), in collaboration with Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Openreach, Newcastle City Council, Sunderland City Council and Durham County Council, who have pooled data to create the underground map of part of the Sunderland area, which covers around 140,000 properties.


A digital map is provided of the infrastructure that exists underground, detailing pipework and cables for water, gas, electricity or telecoms. The technology works on a PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet and is accessible for workers out on the ground.


The technology was presented at a special showcase event at the Stadium of Light earlier this month, and will be tested across a number of locations in the Sunderland area.


If successful, Northumbrian Water and OS will work with utility partners and local authorities to introduce an underground map covering its entire operating area.


Clive Surman-Wells, Operational Solutions Manager for Northumbrian Water said: "This is a really exciting piece of technology which could be a real game changer for a number of different industries. Water, gas, electricity and telecoms companies all have maps of their infrastructure underground, but we are bringing all of this together on the same map, at the same time, to give us a consolidated view. We all face the same issues when digging roads, so it makes sense for us to work together to overcome them, utilising the expertise of trusted advisors Ordnance Survey.


"Knowing what is underground before we start digging will really help to protect the safety of our workforce, and hopefully reduce the disruption and frustration we cause to our customers through roadworks. If the project works successfully in our operating region we are keen to develop this as a national platform."


Andy Wilson, Ordnance Survey Region Director UK and Europe, said: "Working on the solid geospatial principles of enabling data exchange, this project aims to demonstrate the significant operational and customer outcome benefits that can be created by providing a coordinated view of assets to the relevant parties. If successful in Sunderland, we are keen to explore with government partners ways of making an underground map available for the whole of Great Britain."


The idea for an underground map for the North East was first explored at Northumbrian Water′s 2018 Innovation Festival, which took place at Newcastle Racecourse over five days back in July. During the five-day OS sponsored ‘mapathon′ OS, utilities companies and local authorities worked together to create a first version of the map, develop data and a business case.


Clive added: "This is an issue that utilities have faced for decades, and it is only through the Innovation Festival that we were able to bring together the various stakeholders involved to work on a solution. We have now been able to produce a sharing agreement that is agreeable for us all to take forward."