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Underground development needs new planning regs

Better planning regulations for the underground environment will be needed if cities are to ­unlock the potential of subsurface ­spaces according to the ­International ­Tunnelling Association’s Committee for Underground Space ­(ITACUS).

In a presentation at the recent ICE Engineering Underground Space conference, ITACUS chair Han Admiraal, outlined a vision for future cities in which engineers were encouraged to design downwards to deal with above-surface constraints.

To realise this vision he called for better planning and proposed making a conceptual model for underground space consisting of four resources: energy, water, geo materials and space itself.

Admiraal said most of the ­problems with underground engineering were caused when city planners focused solely one of these four resources.

hammersmith flyunder

Hammersmith flyunder: Freeing surface space for development

“You could have a city that decides that alternative energy is the thing to do and they start ­encouraging people to invest in geothermal energy,” he said.

“Then everyone starts driving pipes deep into the ground, and then the next local government comes along and says they want to invest in a mass transit transport system. At that stage you’re going to have a big problem,” he said.

In another presentation CH2MHill senior technology fellow Martin Knights echoed the sentiment that underground planning laws were urgently needed, particularly in the UK. He is designer of the proposed Hammersmith ­”Flyunder” - a tunnel to ­replace the existing Hammersmith ­flyover,

“Cities like Helsinki are ­showing the way by having a co-ordinated strategic masterplan for the use of surface space and also the underground [environment] and if any city needs it, it’s ­London,” he said.

Knights wondered whether it would be possible to create an equivalent of the London Underground Jubilee Line in 50 years’ time if there wasn’t a more ­joined-up approach.

“If we’re not careful, every horizon will have been taken out and lots of opportunities underground will have been blighted,” he said.

Both speakers said that concepts such as the Hammersmith “Flyunder” or the idea of “earthscrapers” - inverted sky-scrapers or pyramids with a central void - would be important in getting the public and politicians to engage with the idea of developing ­underground spaces.

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