The vast network of utility services buried underground is fundamental to the way we live today, however around 4 million holes are dug into UK roads each year resulting in traffic disruption, high costs and wasted man hours. Not only this, inaccurate, incomplete and/or out-of-date information on the existence and location of utility assets poses problems for new construction or rehabilitation works and many projects don’t go according to plan.


This lack of reliable information during design and construction activities can result in costly delays, utility service disruptions, societal disruption, redesigns, personal injuries and even loss of life. Accurate utility data could also afford the opportunity for as yet unrealized benefits, such as the use of remote robotic techniques to maintain asset networks in busy highways in future to reduce the need for intrusive maintenance practices (road excavations). Similarly, accurate mapping of utility networks could improve asset modelling capabilities. Whilst there is significant knowledge and expertise in the industry, the market is largely unregulated.

Dr Nicole Metje, Senior Lecturer in the School of Civil Engineering and co-investigator on the Mapping the Underworld (MTU) and Assessing the Underworld (ATU) projects, has spent nearly two years as the only academic on a 17-strong steering committee working on development of a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) project, which sought to address some of these challenges. Nicole provided academic expertise to help shape and then finalise this important project, which will now set a new standard for utility mapping providers. Supported and funded by industry and facilitated by the British Standards Institute (BSI), PAS 128 specifies requirements for the detection, verification and location of existing and new underground utilities in order to improve data for the industry. PAS 128 ‘Specification for Underground Utility Detection, Verification and Location’ was developed and launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers on 30 June 2014.

Nicole said:

The aim of this PAS is to classify different levels of utility survey, thereby ensuring a consistent standard across the industry. This will help utility surveying practitioners to tender for jobs ‘on a level playing field’, which is then beneficial to clients and the wider industry sector. This standard will help to increase market confidence regarding not just the definition and delivery of the Subsurface Utility Engineering (or SUE) process, but also the further professionalism of the industry.

ATU follows in the footsteps of MTU, which created a multi-sensor platform to map the buried infrastructure in different ground conditions, taking cognisence of the ground itself to optimise the sensing technologies. Using multiple sensors, co-located on one platform allows pipes and cables to be detected by more than one technology, thereby increasing the confidence in the results. ATU started in 2012 and is a multi-disciplinary and multi-university, 4-year research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, which continues the 25-year vision started in 1996 to improve utility streetworks and make these more sustainable. ATU is optimising the geophysical instruments developed under MTU to assess the condition of three interlinked infrastructures: the road surface, the ground and the buried utilities. The project started in 2013 and has over 57 project partners contributing over £16m in-kind to the project.

Nicole added: ‘The cutting edge work which is carried out by the MTU and ATU has informed this important PAS. It was important to ensure the latest research developments, such as novel geophysical instrumentation, have a place within the specification when they come to market. Novel technology developments, improved technologies and professional survey specifications such as PAS 128 are all pieces in a bigger jigsaw puzzle making streetworks more sustainable and thus providing benefits for all.

This project is an indication of the value industry is placing on the MTU and ATU projects and the level of engagement we have with the industry as well as the impacts these project are making. When PAS 128 went to public consultation, more than 600 comments were received, which showed the appetite for this type of specification.

PAS 128 is now available from the BSI website

For more information about the Mapping the underworld project, please visit

For more information about the Assessing the Underworld project, please visit