National Register of Underground Assets (NUAR) – Business Case Summary
Underground assets: the case for change
Every construction and infrastructure project should provide information about underground utility assets, such as cables, pipes, sewers, conduits, when preparing for the soil survey and excavation work , for example digging. This data helps prevent costly damage to assets and improves the safety of workers and the general public. The current process by which underground asset data is shared across the UK could be improved as it is currently fragmented and inefficient. Currently, in preparation for ongoing work, several organizations need to be contacted who then provide data of varying quality: data is provided in multiple formats and scales, information is on multiple base maps, has varying levels of variable precision, may be incomplete, and is collected at different frequencies. These inconsistencies make it difficult to reconcile all relevant underground asset data into a single map of asset locations, which increases the risk of accidents and means projects take longer, cause more disruption to the public. and cost more.
Solving data quality and sharing issues is not easy, and there is no direct incentive for companies that own and use this information to improve their data at the scale required for a complete solution. For example, there is no reason for individual companies to invest in reform when many of the risks and costs will be borne by other organisations, such as other utility providers.
However, the government is able to centrally coordinate and invest in large-scale data transformation where there is clear evidence of value to the UK economy, and it can also ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to address the business and security concerns of an effective digital system. data access. Underground asset data is one area where this is the case.
The Geospatial Commission has made the economic case for improving access to underground utility asset location data through a more centralized data access model and conducted research to estimate the magnitude of cost savings that could be achieved by creating a centralized system. Platform. A conservative estimate of the benefits of a nationwide approach to digitizing data on underground assets calculates £30 of profit for every pound invested, which is an extremely high rate of return for any government scheme. This calculation informed the creation of the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) program.
We publish the approach taken to estimate relevant benefits to support other organizations that need to build an investment case for data sharing and coordination.
Profit Calculation Approach
A range of different methods have been used for the calculation of benefits, to account for the complexity of estimating savings across a large number of organizations and projects. The starting point for the analysis is a comparison of NUAR with the current data access system, looking at how it could change processes and reduce risk.
The total estimated monetized benefit of the NUAR program is £3.4 billion, or £347 million per year over ten years. This is based on three estimated benefits:
- Savings from reduced utility strikes, saving £240m a year
- Reduced data sharing costs, saving £91m per year
- On-site efficiency improvements for projects, saving £16m a year
Savings from reduced utility strikes
Many of the benefits of a more centralized approach come from the reduction in the number of utility strikes, where pieces of infrastructure are mistakenly damaged, for example during digging. First, a literature review was used to understand the magnitude of potential benefits.
The review identifies the average cost of a utility strike, breaking down the cost elements into direct costs (for example, repairing damage) and indirect costs (such as project delays and extended road closures ). The literature shows that there are cost variations for each utility category – for example, strikes on high voltage cables and fiber optic cables have a much higher cost than strikes on telecommunications equipment. These cost variations are used to model the average direct cost per strike, which we estimate at £3,371 per strike. The literature also estimates indirect costs based on a series of industry case studies. Indirect costs are, on average, 29 times higher than direct costs, so this scale factor is applied to estimate the full scale of utility strike costs.
A widely reported industry statistic of 60,000 buried utility line and cable strikes per year was used as the basis for strike reduction benefits. The economic costs of utility strikes alone are therefore estimated at £2.4bn a year. A significant challenge has been to identify what proportion of strikes could be avoided with better data. Industry incident reports (Utilities Strike Avoidance Group 2014-2018) classify strikes into groups based on the cause of the incident. Those related to the inadequacy of on-site data exploitation plans and procedures represent approximately 30% of all incidents: this is the central estimate of the share that could be avoided.
Reduced data sharing costs and on-site efficiency
Additional data needed to be collected to understand how a new data access model could make work processes more efficient. The Geospatial Commission therefore commissioned a survey of those involved in the various aspects of excavation to understand the time and cost of data collection, both following the “as usual” processes and those that will be in place once the NUAR is delivered. This approach identified the actions taken by data users and showed the steps in this process that would reduce costs. The results and data of this work were averaged and then extended to the entire sector. This data was also used to estimate the magnitude of savings resulting from the reduction in the number of times unexpected underground assets were discovered at the site and required changes to plans. This includes assets that are unregistered or registered but not where indicated by the plans. These savings are still significant although much lower, as only a subset of projects are delayed or abandoned for these reasons.
Accounting for Bias and Uncertainty
This project used the best sources of credible evidence available and commissioned new evidence where there were gaps – but there will always be some uncertainty around the estimated benefits of a future program that will change the way things are done. A number of sensitivity tests have therefore been performed to understand how earnings evolve under different assumptions. These show that in all scenarios tested, the NUAR program represents good value for money even when the assumptions about the magnitude of the benefits are significantly reduced. Detailed modeling and assumptions have been published separately.
There are also other benefits of the program that are not currently quantifiable, such as more strategic improvements in the coordination of street works and underground planning. There is therefore a very high level of overall confidence that the NUAR program offers good value for money, and this will be validated by a detailed evaluation plan.
The value of other potential use cases, such as using NUAR to improve the efficiency of the planning process and new builds, has yet to be quantified.
Further details are available in the “NUAR Economic Benefits paper”.
References in economic case:
Beck, AR, Fu, G., Cohn, AG et al., 2007. A framework for integrating UK utility data. In: Rumor, M., Coors, V. and Fendel, EM, (eds.) Urban and Regional Data Management: UDMS 2007. 26th Urban Data Management Symposium, October 10-12, 2007, Stuttgart, Germany. Taylor and Francis, p. 261-276. ISBN 9780415440592
Association of Civil Engineering Contractors (CECA)
Daems, J. 2017. KLIP goes digital
Future Cities Catapult, 2017. UK Underground Asset Mapping, Project Iceberg: Work Package 1 – Current State of the Art Market Research and Global Case Studies. Urban Innovation Centre, London.
HAUC, 2021. UK Harm Prevention Benchmarking Survey
Ikävalko, O., Satola, OI and Hoivanen, R. 2016. Helsinki – COST TU120 Sub-Urban Report. TU1206-WG1-007
Makana, L., Metje, N., Jefferson, I. and Rogers, C. 2016. What do utility strikes really cost? A report from the University of Birmingham
Makana, L., Metje, N., Jefferson, I., Sackey, M., and Rogers, C. 2019. Estimating the Costs of Utility Strikes: Toward Proactive Street Works Management, Infrastructure Asset Management
Metje, N., Bilal, A. and Crossland, S. 2015. Causes, impacts and costs of buried asset strikes. Institute of Civil Engineers. Municipal Engineer Acts. 168. 165-174
Utility Strike Avoidance Group, 2014. The 2014 Utility Strike Damage Report
Utility Strike Avoidance Group, 2016. The 2015 & 16 Utility Strike Damages Report
Utility Strike Avoidance Group, 2019. Utility Strike Damage Report 2017 and 18