UK to map underground utilities under geospatial data strategy

By on 26/06/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
HMRC is running a £3m (US$3.92m) tender for ‘Payment Initiation and Account Information Services’. (Photo courtesy Negative Space via Pexels).

The UK government has published a strategy setting out how geospatial data will “drive innovation and boost the economy” over the next five years.

Geospatial data is a subset of location data which allows information to be collected with associated time and place. It has wide-ranging potential applications, from tracking COVID-19 outbreaks to predicting major weather events and improving online public services.

The strategy – released by the Geospatial Commission: the Cabinet Office committee dedicated to promoting the best use of geospatial data in the UK – sets out four goals: promoting and safeguarding the use of location data; improving access to better location data; enhancing capabilities, skills, and awareness; and enabling innovation.  

Geospatial expert John Kedar told Global Government Forum that the strategy recognises the value of location data to the British economy, making clear that “we can do things better by using geospatial information across all sectors”. He said the strategy’s commitment to create a National Underground Asset Register – bringing together utility data to allow for better infrastructure planning and to reduce the risk and disruption caused when underground pipes or cables are struck by mistake – “is an enormous step forward and would be worth all the money the Geospatial Commission costs over five years alone”.  

‘Slightly incomplete’

Kedar described the roadmap as “slightly incomplete”, given that most of the actions outlined in it are anticipated to have been realised by 2021. This, he said, reflects “an honest recognition that more understanding of what measures will have most impact, through assessment and pilots, are needed”.

Kedar, a former director of international engagement at Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, also told GGF that he feels more emphasis should have been put on how the UK can use geospatial data to its best advantage in the growing ‘machine age’. However, he is pleased the Commission has pledged to develop a set of machine-readable data licences. It is important to open up ‘knowledge on demand’ and to draw on the expertise of the modelling and application communities and those who design the algorithms behind data’s use, enabling true prediction – for example on the future spread of coronavirus, he said.  

He added that he is pleased the strategy aligns with the UN’s recently-released Integrated Geospatial Information Framework, which is designed to help all nations open the doors to the benefits of geospatial information.

Overall, he said he is “really positive” about the “sensible” strategy and “pleasantly surprised” by the UK’s commitment to export its geospatial expertise. “We’ve got good data skills in business, in academia and in government, and we could really make a difference to developed and developing nations by sharing some of that,” he said.

John Kedar wrote an opinion piece – The ‘power of where’ – realising the potential of geospatial data – published by Global Government Forum in December 2019.

Global Government Forum also published an interview with then-chief executive of the Geospatial Commission William Priest in late 2018.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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