People in the driving seat as minister announces £3.9 million urban regeneration partnerships

People living in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle & Gateshead and York will benefit from a new research and innovation initiative that puts them in the driving seat to help improve their cities’ health, wellbeing and prosperity as they face up to challenges of modern urban living.

Phase one of the Urban Living Partnership, a first-of-its-kind investment by the seven UK Research Councils and the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, brings citizens together with university researchers, local authorities and over 70 partners from business and the third sector in five multidisciplinary pilot initiatives aimed at rewriting the blueprint for the evolution of our city living.

Taking a ‘whole city’ approach the initiative brings together a unique body of expertise cutting across over 20 disciplines including civil engineering, computer science, planning, psychology, management, arts and humanities, the creative industries and health sciences.

Partners to the £3.9 million first phase of the initiative are contributing over £1.9 million and include: IBM UK Ltd, Arup, Atkins Global, The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Future Cities Catapult.

Announcing the launch of the initiative, Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, said: “At their best, cities drive innovation, cultural and economic activity and social integration. However, they also face increasing challenges, such as overheating, congestion, poor supply of water and the removal of waste. These new projects will combine business acumen with academic talent and community leadership to help tackle these issues and ensure the continued prosperity in five of our greatest cities.”

While each project faces distinct challenges, they also share common goals – such as empowering citizens to co-design their future cities, and finding ways to turn grand challenges into mutually beneficial business opportunities, leading to greater health, wellbeing and prosperity.

Projects will exploit the latest environmental monitoring, urban modelling, data analysis and crowdsourcing tools, and will employ a range of cutting-edge technologies, such as wireless sensing networks, wearable devices and virtual reality systems.

Another key strand will be the development of open-license digital platforms from which other cities can benefit – both in the UK and internationally.

A key feature of these projects is their diversity, spanning disciplines and sectors. The Newcastle partnership, for example, includes among its partners Newcastle City Council; The Royal Society for Arts North East; Tyne and Wear Urban Traffic Management Centre; TechCity; the Federation of Small Businesses; the Newcastle Schools Forum; Northumbrian Water; and IBM Europe’s Intelligent Operations and Resilience programme – which provides data visualisation and deep analytics to help city agencies enhance their efficiency and planning.

Commenting on his company’s involvement in the Leeds Urban Living Partnership, led by the University of Leeds, Jim Johnson, a director of global engineering consultancy firm, Arup, said: “We feel that this is an innovative and timely initiative, which fits well with current thinking within Arup, aligning with ongoing research and project delivery in Leeds and across our national and international work.”

Amey plc, the Oxford-based engineering consultancy and infrastructure support specialist, is a key partner in the Birmingham pilot. The company’s IT Director for Smart Data and Technology, Dr Rick Robinson, said: “Birmingham’s diverse economy and communities, along with its innovative businesses and research institutions, have the capability to create a wealth of innovative urban solutions locally, and to address the needs of cities around the world. Amey is proud to be a long-term partner of Birmingham and we look forward to supporting this exciting initiative.”

Professor Philip Nelson, chair of Research Councils UK’s Strategic Executive, said: “The complexity of future urban living is beyond any single business, sector or discipline. We need joined-up strategies for innovation within cities and urban areas.

“This joint investment by the Research Councils and Innovate UK will help accelerate the exploitation of the UK’s world class research and innovation base. In so doing we will have better designed spaces, stronger urban economies, more effective and sustainable use of available infrastructure and resources, and happier and healthier lives.”

Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK, said: “Innovate UK has a shared vision with the Research Councils to deliver UK growth through an innovative, high value, knowledge-based economy with high productivity.

“The UK has world‐leading companies in areas such as engineering, architecture, energy and transport systems, communications and the digital economy, finance and project management. Through their expertise and acumen, working with multidisciplinary researchers across the UK, local authorities and partners from business and other sectors, this investment will help us to re-imagine urban living to create cities that have strong economies, promote public health and wellbeing, and do so efficiently, sustainably and adaptably.”