New maps that plot the mystery beneath our feet could improve people’s lives by reducing traffic delays and disruption for people in the North East.

The idea has come from experts at Northumbrian Water Group’s NWG Innovation Festival, an unique week-long event that has brought people to the region from around the world to tackle social and environmental challenges.

Among the organisations taking part at the event, at Newcastle Racecourse, is Ordnance Survey, which is looking to work with utilities companies on a trial of 3D mapping to identify the exact locations of gas and water mains, electricity cables, and more, in one place for the first time.

If the trial is successful, it has the potential to be rolled out across the country, making maintenance and upgrades to these networks easier and less costly.

Ordnance Survey is working with Northumbrian Water on a week-long “sprint” as part of the festival, looking for innovative ways that businesses can contribute to an improved environment in the North East.

The idea has also been highlighted by teams at the festival looking at how infrastructure can be upgraded more effectively and affordably, and improving the way mobile workers, such as those responsible for the maintenance of such networks, operate.

Richard Crump, a managing consultant for Ordnance Survey, said: “The topic of where the various companies’ underground assets are, such as pipes and cables, comes up regularly. There have been various attempts to tackle it in the past, but if we can pull all of this data together there are many different benefits, for the public and for the businesses that supply these utilities.

“Improving the knowledge of the various networks and the areas where they come together will help massively when there are problems with one or more of the underground cables or pipes, or when they need replacing. For example, it has the potential to reduce the chances of affecting other companies’ services, making it quicker and easier to make repairs or upgrades, and much more.

“We would like to get all of this data in one digital space that shows where it is, how deep it is, what the critical nature is, and then we can work with the companies to see how we can improve things for everyone.”

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “This idea of improving the knowledge that we all have about the various networks of cables and pipes beneath the ground has really caught the imagination of people at the NWG Innovation Festival.

“We have maps that show where our road networks and pavements are, people create maps of the electrical wires inside buildings, so the idea that we can do the same beneath our streets is something that makes real sense.

“Many older pipes and wires are not recorded digitally, so some of the data is incomplete or held only in paper format, but the benefits of resolving that and creating a complete network map are huge.

“Greater knowledge of what we are facing when we go out to work on our network means we can complete jobs more quickly, and this is a great new idea for improving that understanding.

Likewise, if we need to dig a hole in the road to repair a water burst, knowing what else is in the ground can reduce the chances of causing problems on another company’s network, so we avoid unwanted disruption or loss of services to customers.”

The big questions under consideration during the week are:
• ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM
• ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and headline sponsor Microsoft
• ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
• ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
• ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
• ‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

Also supporting the NWG Innovation Festival are Newcastle University, Genesys, Interserve, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture and 1Spatial.

People can find out more about the NWG Innovation Festival at