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NUAR; a £30m+ white elephant in the making




It goes without saying that if there’s anything out there that can help people to avoid utility strikes, all of us at LSBUD will be particularly interested. It is “in our blood” and shapes everything we do. Understanding why strikes happen across the broadest church of people putting a spade in the ground is something that gets under your skin

Avoiding Damage to underground & overhead utility assets

The last few years (despite a pandemic being thrown in) have thankfully been brilliant for LSBUD. We’ve protected more assets than ever and helped yet more people work safely. We also have more evidence (from the real world) to prove that everything we have worked for has had the effect we have always known it did.

However, in a parallel universe, the Geospatial Commission has been plotting a £30m taxpayer funded scheme (the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR)) to put utility assets on one map and make the world a better place. It all sounds great until you begin to scratch the surface. Indeed, there’s already an implied threat of bringing in legislation to enforce its use- the worst possible outcome for the industry. Legislating the use and/or Membership of a service would lead to a far more expensive and less innovative system.

The “business case” for NUAR is based wholly on the reduction of strikes- a claimed 30% reduction. Without being able to achieve that, it is already our industry’s white elephant.

You would therefore think that evidence of strike reduction would be the ultimate focus, being the overriding measure of success for the project.

So, if you did need to spend £4m on some ridiculously expensive pilot schemes during 2019/20, it would have been to ensure that the approach worked and that strikes would reduce in those areas as a result. Remember without a reduction in strikes, we might as well take our taxes and put them into landfill.

These pilots were undertaken and the NUAR marketing team have labelled them as a tremendous success. What was the measure of success? Surely, a significant reduction in strikes for all concerned, with the associated benefits.

Unfortunately not. No evidence of any effect on strikes whatsoever. The Geospatial Commission doesn’t even know how many strikes there are now. In fairness no-one really does but even allocating 1% of that £4m to a thorough study of strike damages in the UK would have helped do something good and gain a much better understanding of the problem. Does make you wonder why they didn’t.

The most comparable model to NUAR (and one which is seen as an exemplar in the NUAR documentation) is the Dutch system, KLIP. Unfortunately, there is a very good argument to say that following the approach from our Dutch colleagues will actually lead to higher strikes. Figures released from the Dutch mapping agency behind the KLIP system show over 40,000 strikes per annum in the Netherlands; incidentally the same as they were before the system was introduced and representing a strike rate of 0.05% of all excavations. If the UK enjoyed the same “benefits” then we’d suffer over 200,000 strikes per annum; more than triple what is estimated we have now.

If you are interested to know more about that project, there was a paper written by a Dutch professor from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, available here. If your Dutch is a bit rusty then a recent article on it is available here. The paper was a damning assessment of the legislation brought in to enable that project, noting that it was based on lies, manipulation, incorrect assumptions and politicians being misled. Déjà vu anyone?

I’ll be writing further articles on NUAR as it’s important to have an open review and debunk some of the myths that we have read. The next article will focus on the Economic Case which is interesting reading to say the least if you enjoy a good story!


Richard Broome, Managing Director of LSBUD