The present and future use of ‘land’ below ground

The world’s subsurface space, including Britain’s, is already used in a variety of ways, ranging from occupancy to disposal and the bulk storage of materials and fuels. In the future it is likely that it will be put to further use in response to trends in technology, resource supply and demand, socioeconomics and geopolitics. Here the present and future uses of underground space, and the potential planning and social issues affecting its development, are reviewed. Future uses are likely to be in the area of increasing occupancy (both commercial and residential), the secure storage of documents and data, the storage of carbon dioxide for carbon abatement, natural gas, compressed air stores of energy from traditional and renewable sources, the use of underground heat in buildings and the proposed deep geological disposal of radioactive waste. The article will also explore pressure points and challenges. These will include the regulation of multiple uses of subsurface storage space and, for projects of national importance including natural gas and radioactive waste storage, legislation to lessen the effect of local opposition relative to the ‘national need’. This article does not discuss future mining, hydrocarbon extraction, or water resources.