Out of sight – out of regulation? Underground space governance in the UK

by Kevin Grecksch

29 Nov 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: Underground space has been used by humans for thousands of years: for example, to extract mineral resources or water. Against the background of increasing populations, urbanisation, and energy demand, underground space has come back into focus, promising to ease pressure above the surface. However, geological underground models deliver only frameworks for possible uses and we do not know much about the context between geological characteristics and human uses, demands, and changes of underground space. Moreover, governing underground space can be complicated as it involves conflicting objectives and regulatory frameworks. One key objective, therefore, must be to conceptualise and implement new approaches to underground governance, taking into account its diverse uses and various stakeholders’ claims. This article introduces the current situation of underground space governance and regulation in the UK, discussing different themes, such as property rights, regulation, planning, groundwater, fracking, and the future of underground space use exemplified by the storage of nuclear waste.

Keywords: Underground, governance, regulation, UK, sustainability, property rights.

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 10 (Climate Policy, Regulation and Governance)

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