Researchers, innovators and local authorities to realise vision for future cities

London skyline

23 September 2015

Engineers, ecologists, economists and heritage experts will be among diverse research teams joining with local authorities and innovative business to build successful 21st-century cities.

Announced by Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson today, the Urban Living Partnership will harness the broad spectrum of UK research and innovation expertise to help cities realise their aspiration of healthy, prosperous and sustainable living.

This is the first time all seven UK research councils and Innovate UK have come together to address the complex challenges and opportunities of urban life.

The first step will be to invest £2 million in creating up to five individual pilot city projects, each led by a consortium of researchers, local authorities, service providers and businesses. Taking a "whole city" approach, these teams will use their diverse experience and expertise to identify, understand and address key interconnected challenges ranging from community health and crime to social inclusion and employment.

By working together, the research councils and Innovate UK will combine strengths across the research and innovation ecosystem to better address the specific needs of urban areas.

Universities & Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

"As a one nation government, we are backing our great cities and towns, ensuring they drive economic growth, embrace innovation and have resilient infrastructure.

This unique partnership will harness the UK's world-leading strength in research and I encourage all aspirational cities to make their case."

Cities disproportionately contribute to innovation, creativity and economic activity and are vital to a successful global economy. In the UK, 80% of us live in urban areas[1] and 61% of UK growth is generated by city regions[2]. By 2050 nearly three-quarters of the global population will live in urban areas[3], and cities already account for up to 80% of global growth[2].

To succeed in the future, cities will have to deliver economic activity, high quality infrastructure and quality of life with a lower environmental footprint, and also meet the increasingly diverse needs and aspirations of changing urban populations. Each city will have a unique heritage, culture and set of assets to build upon in achieving its future vision.

Professor Rick Rylance, chair of Research Councils UK, said:

"The strength of this partnership is in recognising the complexity and diversity of our cities. The challenges, opportunities and aspirations are interconnected and stretch beyond any single research discipline or commercial sector.

By bringing together capabilities across RCUK and Innovate UK, the partnership will open up new opportunities for creativity, innovation and co-design in responding to the challenges of future urban living.

We also recognise the fundamental part communities themselves must play in shaping their city's future. Pilot consortia will need to engage the city's communities in this work to achieve success."

This partnership will draw on that network of investment to create up to five pilot cities. Consortia will be encouraged to link with wider research and innovation expertise across the UK and internationally.

The ambition is to scale up the partnership to a UK programme with international reach, positioning the UK as a global leader in urban research and innovation, and supporting sustainable urban growth for UK cities.

Project co-chair Dr Mike Pitts said:

"Significant previous investment by the research councils and Innovate UK has built great strength across a broad range of research areas related to urban living.

This partnership will combine that strength with dynamic local authorities, innovative businesses and major service providers to create the sustainable, successful and desirable city living that we all want for ourselves and future generations."

For more information on the Urban Living Partnership and the pilot cities funding call visit the EPSRC website - external link.


  1. World Bank - external link
  2. 'Unleashing Metro Growth Final recommendations of the City Growth Commission' - page 3 of report (Oct 2014)
  3. UN World Urbanization Prospects - external link

For more information, please contact:

EPSRC Press Office
01793 444 404