News | 11 July 2024
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“Once in a lifetime opportunity” to map city’s pipes and cables

The infrastructure industry gathered at Tākina Wellington Convention & Exhibition Centre this week for the launch of a revolutionary, New Zealand-leading platform to map the buried pipes and cables that could save infrastructure organisations millions of dollars each year.

Underground Asset Register for Wellington map on screen of computer.

Around 100 infrastructure leaders from Wellington Electricity, Civil Contractors NZ, the New Zealand Utilities Advisory Group, Chorus, Vital (amongst others), joined Wellington City Council Mayor Tory Whanau and Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow for the launch of the pilot version of the Underground Asset Register for Wellington

The “once in a lifetime opportunity” is supported by Bloomberg Harvard Leadership Programme, which helps cities from across the globe to tackle complex challenges and improve their residents’ quality of life. Wellington is one of only 10 cities chosen around the world to be part of the programme.

Watch video of WUAM

Mayor Whanau says: “It is vital we figure out the way through our underground world. Wellington has seen first-hand what an infrastructure deficit looks like.” 

The register is the first combined, online data sharing platform for underground infrastructure owned by the Council and other utility operators across any city in New ZealandThe ambition is to build a platform that can ultimately be scaled up for the whole of the country.  

The platform aims to reduce disruption to the capital’s streets by moving away from legacy records and outdated paper processes to a centralised online map-based library. It is the start of a long journey towards a digital twin of the infrastructure under the city’s streets.  

Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow says with so much infrastructure construction planned across Wellington, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity, while the ground is open to capture what is where.

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of construction sites and one of my observations is how congested the space under our roads and footpaths is.”

Inputting data on the Underground Asset Register for Wellington on a computer pad.

Project Director Denise Beazley released findings from a Council infrastructure sector survey on the impact of currently available data on underground excavation works conducted in the city.  

Council analysis projects more than 70 percent of infrastructure companies experience one or more issues with data, be it missing, inaccurate, hard to use, or lacking detail or context.  

Fifty percent are affected by physical issues, like asset strikes, near misses, unexpected assets found, or expected assets not found.  

Annual additional costs on sector participants in Wellington are likely to be in excess of $50 million, and issues with underground data result in thousands of days of unplanned or avoidable delays as well health and safety incidents.   

Survey respondents says better channels for reporting corrections, better contextual information, better compilation and availability of existing records and improving accuracy will make their work easier, quicker, cheaper. 

GP Friel, General Manager, Dave Philipson, agrees: “I’ve been in the construction industry for 20 years. For that time, we have seen this as too difficult to fix and swept it to one side. This is a culture change and our opportunity to improve the data used by the next stewards of the city.” 

Wellington is embarking on an ambitious infrastructure construction programme, with the register potentially playing a key role in keeping projects on track and making sure the city continues to function.  

Around New Zealand data is held in the separate utilities’ databases, all of which keep data in different formats to meet their individual needs. With data compiled manually for each job it is very difficult to have a thorough understand of the assets beneath the streets. Records from older pipes and cables is often missing or incomplete. 

The register is an online map-based library, which utilities can feed their updated data into. All organisations involved retain ownership of their own data, with a copy of their data going onto the platform. Nothing commercially sensitive is shared on the platform. 

Benefits include increased safety for crews, improved certainty for planning with less chance of projects running over time and budget, resulting in reduced disruption for businesses and residents. 

Wellington Electricity, Chief Executive, Greg Skelton, says his company was going through an asset replacement initiative and wants it to be clear to everybody where our assets are.  

“It is our customers that bear the costs. Once you hit an electricity cable it is a big concern.”  

Success is not a given, it is going to take collaboration with sector partners. It is not a journey we can go on alone adds Barbara. 

“This marks a turning point. In 12 months time I ask you where do we want to be? What part do you want to play in this journey.” 

Wellington City Council will now engage with industry organisations to include their data on the register. The register is funded by the previous Labour Government’s Better Off funding programme. The new coalition Government has confirmed its support for the project.