It is estimated that the cost of accidental strikes on underground pipes and cables is £1.2 billion (US$1.5 billion) a year to the UK's economy. Workers who hit gas and electric pipes by mistake can also put themselves in danger of death or serious injury.
To help prevent such accidents, the government's Geospatial Commission has announced its ambition to bring together the existing data on underground pipes and cables to create an underground assets register. This has begun with pilot projects in London and the North East, to test the feasibility of the project.
Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, visited Sunderland to see the work which is already underway to map the area's underground network, where he said: "When workers strike pipes and cables, it risks lives, costs money and causes havoc for residents and road-users.
"Our investment in this cutting-edge underground map is just one way that the government is working smarter so that we really make a difference to people's everyday lives."
There is currently no comprehensive underground map of the UK's service network. Different organisations have their own maps showing where such things as gas pipes and electricity cables are, but the lack of a combined map creates an increased risk of potentially lethal accidents.
Work to tackle the problem has so far seen working prototypes created in Sunderland and London. This allows workers to see underground pipes and cables on mobile phones or laptop computers before they start a dig.
In the North East, the project has been led by Ordnance Survey, which has worked with Northumbrian Water, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, and Openreach. In London, work will be led by the Greater London Authority, which is working closely with infrastructure providers and local authorities.
The creation of an underground map of utility assets has long been an ambition of Ordnance Survey
David Henderson, the managing director of Ordnance Survey Great Britain, said: "The creation of an underground map of utility assets has long been an ambition of Ordnance Survey. And over the last year, we have been working closely with Northumbrian Water and a consortia of utility companies and local authorities in the North East of England, to explore how accurate geospatial data can improve underground infrastructure maintenance and inform new-build development projects.
"The investment being made by the Geospatial Commission will ultimately enable the utility industry to more efficiently access, use and share data describing otherwise hidden infrastructure, thereby reducing operational costs, minimising disruption and accelerating completion of site works."
Heidi Mottram, CEO of Northumbrian Water, who hosted the visit added: "We are delighted to host the Minister for Implementation today to demonstrate the progress we have made since our Innovation Festival last year when we first started exploring this idea.
"Working alongside local authorities, other utility services and partners has meant that we are off to a good start in mapping Sunderland's underground. We are looking forward to working with government and others to showcase the powers of data sharing for public good."