News | 28 June 2023
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Green light to map what’s beneath Wellington’s streets

Wellington City Council has approved a New Zealand-leading initiative to build an updateable digital map, recording where all of the underground pipes and cables are beneath the city’s roads and footpaths.

A crew working to install water pipes.

The Wellington Underground Asset Map (WUAM) programme will revolutionise the way buried infrastructure like Three Waters assets, telecommunications cables, gas pipes and other services are installed, maintained, operated and repaired.  

“Over the next few decades, billions of dollars will be spent on infrastructure projects around the city, including water, electricity, Let’s Get Wellington Moving, cycleways and Council capital projects like the Te Matapihi Central Library and housing developments,” says Chief Infrastructure Officer Siobhan Procter.  

At this month’s Building Nations 2023 conference in Christchurch, Siobhan shared the ambitions of Wellington’s Underground Asset Map Programme.  

The programme aims to reduce disruption to the capital’s streets by moving away from legacy records and outdated paper processes to a centralised online map-based library.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

Currently, there is no central record system for the infrastructure underneath Wellington’s – or New Zealand’s – streets. Data is held in the separate utilities companies’ 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 are often missing or incomplete. 

The objective of the programme is to develop a federated data sharing platform showing subsurface infrastructure owned by Council and other utility operators.  These users will feed their data into this platform that everyone who works in the sector can access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This type of system is often referred to as federated subsurface asset register or subsurface digital twin. 

WUAM has a raft of benefits including 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. 

The aim is to build a system and supporting compliance policies that can be scaled up for the whole of New Zealand. There are similar platforms in the United Kingdom – the National Underground Asset Register, Scotland’s Vault records system, as well as systems in Singapore and some states in the United States.  

“We are embarking on an ambitious infrastructure construction programme with 30 years of development taking place over the next decade,” adds Siobhan. 

“The Wellington Underground Asset Map will play a central role in making sure the variety of projects remain on track – reducing the impact on Wellingtonians and helping the city continue to function as we focus on making the city a great place to live, work and play. 

“This is a highly complex project that will require active participation from across the sector. While we have the regulatory powers to make it happen, we will work collaboratively with the sector to bring about change.” 

The WUAM project is funded from $4 million from the Department of Internal Affairs as part of the Government’s Three Waters Better Off Funding.  

The Three Waters Better Off Funding has been designated for projects focusing on climate transition, community wellbeing, or infrastructure and services projects that support the community.