Going deeper underground

Jun 2008 | Comments Off on Going deeper underground

Marc Hobell, Jim Stancliffe

The ‘National Underground Assets Group (NUAG) Approach’ forms the basis of a national high-level framework in UK to deliver a set of minimum performance standards

Things can only get better

Currently, there is no national approach to the way information on the nature and location of underground infrastructure is captured, recorded and shared. Records are not always complete. There are varying degrees of accuracy and referencing approaches. The time it takes to capture, store, retrieve and share data, how it is stored and policies and procedures followed also differ. Even scales of drawings, level of detail and symbols used are not standard across organisations. All of these factors combine to reduce efficiency and effectiveness, and increase health and safety risks. But all this is on the change. Following the work of the ICE/ICES Geospatial Engineering Board, the National Underground Assets Group (NUAG) was established in 2005 to deliver a new way of looking at the issues. In July 2007 it published the ‘NUAG Approach’ for capturing, recording and sharing underground asset information.

The ‘NUAG Approach’ forms the basis of a national high-level framework to deliver a set of minimum performance standards. It envisages a structured transition towards more comprehensive data capture using GPS-enabled methods, more consistent data being held in GIS as well as webbased enquiry and information sharing. It also seeks to improve the quality and consistency of legacy asset data through an opportunistic approach, with no requirement to convert all legacy data from a stated date; rather, the aim is for an improvement over time. Implementation of the ‘NUAG Approach’ will inevitably take time. The performance standards proposed are deliberately challenging in response to identified stakeholder requirements and can only be achieved as organisations change their processes and the market responds with more affordable and useable technologies.

Stakeholders have identified the lack of a statutory common approach as a major underlying cause of the problems, and are supportive of the NUAG recommendations and standards. Using the ‘NUAG Approach’ as the basis for wider engagement with appropriate government departments, NUAG is making positive progress on key issues of ownership, legislation and resources. In agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee (HAUC(UK)), the July 2007 NUAG report will form the basis of the forthcoming review of their Code of Practice for Recording of Underground Apparatus in Streets.

As the next part of its overall plan, NUAG is currently embarking on a project to build on its work to date with wider support from the Health & Safety Executive, Regulators and wider government stakeholders such as DEFRA and the Scottish Executive. The ‘NUAG Approach’ sets out standards to ensure data on underground assets is more accurate, consistent and complete, and made available more quickly. It also sets out a high-level process for sharing and displaying asset information in response to enquiries. This new project aims to define and describe in much greater detail the necessary underlying processes, protocols and technological capability, and how they might be implemented, based on an understanding of user requirements and available technologies.


This will be the next step in moving towards achieving the NUAG vision: All information on underground assets, and appropriate associated above-ground assets, will be shared between stakeholders in a consistent way, on demand.

The costs and risks associated with the lack of a common approach are high, and will continue to grow unless action is taken to resolve the problem. NUAG’s extensive stakeholder engagement over the last two years confirms widespread and strong support for action to improve the situation. NUAG is trying to piece together a road map to enable everyone involved with buried assets to develop their organisations so that all reach a common point at an agreed date. Successful deployment of the ‘NUAG Approach’ is fundamental to this aim and to the delivery of significant associated benefits to utility companies, highways organisations, and society in general.

More information about NUAG, and downloadable copies of NUAG reports, can be found at


Marc Hobell

Member of the ICE/ICES Geospatial
Board, AGI Utilities SIG and NUAG

Jim Stancliffe

Inspector with HSE’s Gas and Pipeline Unit
Inspector, Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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