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

19 May 2016

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 Urban Living Partnership 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 Urban Living Partnership, Minister for Universities & 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.

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:

How we shape the cities of the future is fundamental to boosting productivity and creating the new industries and jobs of tomorrow. Innovate UK works all the time with businesses to help drive economic growth. Now, we are excited that for the first time, all of the UK's research councils have come together to work with Innovate UK on such a project.

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 & Wear Urban Traffic Management Centre, TechCity, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Newcastle Schools Forum, Northumbrian Water, and IBM Europe's Intelligent Operations & 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 & 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.

Councillor Andrew Waller, executive member for the environment at City of York Council, said:

The Urban Living Partnership will enable York to develop a coherent and prioritised list of health, wellbeing and economic concerns that are potentially linked to the quality of the city environment.

We will look to the past, present and future in trying to diagnose and predict environmental issues for York and their associated human health, wellbeing and economic impacts, and provide the evidence-base for making decisions on how best to manage and enhance the city systems.

Further information

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1. Summaries of the five pilots are shown below:

  • EP/P002021/1 From Citizen to Co-innovator, from City Council to Facilitator: Integrating Urban Systems to Provide Better Outcomes for People (BOP) - external link

    Urban Living Birmingham (ULB) Consortium, comprising University of Birmingham; Birmingham City University; University of Warwick and Aston University. Principal Investigator: Professor John Bryson.

    21 project partners: Amey plc; ART Business Loans; Atkins; Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Birmingham City Council; Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP); Birmingham Science City; Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; Centro Public Transport; Energy Systems Catapult; Fraunhofer Institut (Multiple, Grouped); Futures Network West Midlands (FNWM); Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust; Localise West Midlands; Midlands Environmental Business Company; Natural England; Networkfour; Redpill Group Ltd; Regional Economic Application Laboratory; Sustainability West Midlands; West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)

    Since the late 1960s, Birmingham has performed poorly on all economic indicators. To address this challenge, the Urban Living Birmingham Consortium brings together the expertise of four universities; national and international academic institutions; and many local, regional and national organisations.

    The consortium takes as its starting point the understanding that most service innovations occur when providers co-innovate with consumers. Through this approach the citizens of Birmingham themselves, working with the public, private and third sectors, will be able to benefit from a combination of business acumen and cooperative design principles to co-design systems and services that meet their practical, cultural and spiritual needs.

  • EP/P002137/1 The Bristol Urban Area Diagnostics Pilot - external link

    University of Bristol and University of the West of England. Principal Investigator Professor Colin Taylor.

    14 project partners: Bristol Green Capital Partnership; Bristol Health Partners; Buro Happold; Business West Future Cities Catapult; Knowle West Media Centre; PricewaterhouseCoopers; RSA (Royal Society for Arts) South Gloucestershire Council; Watershed Media Centre; West of England Local Enterprise Partner.

    As European Green Capital 2015 and one of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities, Bristol has challenged itself to transform by 2065 into a place where citizens 'flourish' by working together to create wellbeing, and achieve this equitably and sustainably.

    The Bristol Urban Area can legitimately claim to be in the vanguard of such urban transformation, and yet its development pathway remains characterised by paradox, and the need to deal with some stark realities and to challenge a 'business-as-usual' mind-set if progress towards aspirational goals is to be sustained.

    This proposal addresses a fundamental issue: what is stopping Bristol from bridging the gap between its current situation and the desired future as encapsulated in the City's various visions and aspirations?

    We have forged a partnership focused on the contiguous City of Bristol and South Gloucestershire urban area. We have secured the full backing of the two local authorities, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Bristol Health Partners, the LEP, the local business community, citizen groups, and academics from across both Universities, with tangible commitments of support.

    Dissolving siloes through partnership, and a genuine interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration, is core to our approach, and hence both Universities have committed to share equally the financial resources with external partners in a three-way split.

    It is a key strength of this project that we are able to leverage extensively on internationally leading research assets, including: 'Bristol is Open', the FP7-funded Systems Thinking for Efficient Energy Planning (STEEP), the Horizon 2020 REPLICATE project, ongoing work at the £3·5 million EPSRC-ESRC International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF) and co-produced and co-designed research such as the AHRC/ESRC Connected Communities and Digital Economy funded projects including REACT Hub, Tangible Memories and Productive Margins.

    We also have access to a wealth of highly valuable data sources including the 2015 State of Bristol Report, Bristol's Quality of Life Survey, and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents & Children that has followed the health of 14,500 local families since the 1990s.

    We intend to build on the ICIF cognitive modelling approach which identifies the importance of challenging established mental models since these entrench a 'business-as-usual' mind-set. At the heart is co-creation and co-production, and an acknowledgement that citizen behaviour and action are essential to the delivery of desired societal outcomes such as wellbeing, equality, health, learning, and carbon neutrality.

    The work programme synthesises existing domain-specific diagnostic methodologies and tools to create a novel Integrated Diagnostics Framework. We believe strongly that unless an integrating framework is developed to bring together multiple viewpoints, the diagnosis of urban challenges will remain fragmented and understandings will potentially conflict.

    We will apply this framework in this pilot project to diagnose complex problems across four 'Challenge Themes': Mobility & Accessibility, Health & Happiness, Equality & Inclusion and the 'Carbon Neutral' city. We have appointed 'Theme Leaders' who are all 'end users' of the diagnostics, ensuring that the process of investigation is cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary, participatory and grounded in real-world context and application.

    The legacy of the project will be threefold: firstly innovation in the diagnostic framework and methods needed to address urban challenges; secondly its application to the Bristol urban area and the resulting diagnostics synthesise across the four Challenge Themes; and finally the formation of an embryonic cadre of cross-sector city leaders with the capability to apply integrated diagnostics and challenge the prevailing 'business as usual' approaches.

  • EP/P001785/1 Leeds: Transformational Routemapping for Urban Environments (TRUE)

    University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University. Principal Investigator Professor Paul Chatterton.

    10 project partners: Arup Group Ltd; Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; Future Cities Catapult; Leeds City Council; Leeds Community Foundation; Open Data Institute; Together for Peace (T4P); Voluntary Action Leeds; West & North York Chamber of Commerce; Young Foundation.

    UK Cities face wide-ranging challenges including: inequality, crime, housing shortages, infrastructure congestion, carbon dependency, environmental degradation, and low skills. Local governments are working to address these against a background of prolonged financial austerity, electoral disengagement, misalignments in priorities between central and other tiers of government, rigid funding cycles, organisational silos and low levels of information, all of which contribute to sub-optimal decisions that can intensify persistent problems and degrade public confidence.

    Given this context, this project is committed to transformation based on enhancing capacity to better manage urban complexity in ways that promote co-production and collaborative working practices, civic enterprise, retain local value and develop new types of institutions.

    This project mobilises a multi-sector consortium called TRUE (Transformational Routemapping for Urban Environments) to collaboratively diagnose interrelated urban challenges. TRUE represents meaningful commitment from the university, public, private and civil society sectors to collaborative working in Leeds.

    TRUE recognises that a step-change is required in the ways that current urban systems are arranged, and that producing this change entails first understanding the integrated nature of the complexities in current and future urban living systems and the factors (including capacity/capability) that anchor the effective delivery of city-wide solutions.

    Once this understanding is gained, it is then necessary to establish the capabilities required to deliver them. Finally, steps can be taken to achieve effective outcomes. Key to this is the ability to align stakeholder capability to the complexity of the undertaking at city scales. Failure to do so can result in cost and time overruns, political damage, undelivered objectives and outcomes and other unintended consequences.

    The aim of TRUE is to adopt a socio-technical systems approach to diagnosing complexity and aligning capability embodied in a tested approach called Project Initiation Routemap (Routemap).

    By drawing on Routemap and adapting it, TRUE is positioned to rethink how local authorities deliver integrated city-wide solutions. The Routemap brings together learning from the public and private sector ranging from Crossrail to NHS England into a framework that allows users to better align complexity with the capabilities required to manage a complex environments, thus increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

    By first applying and then radically adapting the Routemap, TRUE creates a diagnostic cycle in which transferrable guidance can be developed in a collaborative manner. TRUE has joined up with Routemap consultants to ensure that urban pilot developments will incorporate the full learning of the existing Routemap portfolio and have traction at a national government level For this urban pilot, TRUE will apply this approach to a selection of priority outcome areas (called Breakthrough Projects) identified by Leeds City Council (LCC). Each of these Breakthrough Projects encompasses a multitude of interrelated challenges and these projects will be used to collaboratively develop TRUE as a novel, highly applicable and transferable holistic diagnostic tool.

    This tool will have direct potential benefits in terms of assessing systemic complexity and integrated challenges to enhance capacity amongst city actors to support the delivery of citywide solutions that can meet future challenges. It will be presented through an open license digital platform and training guidance delivered by quality assured TRUE partners available to city officials across the UK and internationally. TRUE will be launched at a major city-based Launch conference. Through these, TRUE will be uniquely placed to enhance capacity of city teams to support the delivery of integrated city-wide solutions that meet identified objectives.

  • EP/P00203X/1 Urban Living Partnership – Newcastle and Gateshead City Region - external link

    Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. Principal Investigator Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones.

    14 formal project partners: AECOM Ltd; ARJUNA Solutions; Buro Happold Ltd; FSB; IBM; INTU Properties Ltd; Newcastle City Centre; Newcastle International Airport Ltd; Nexus Ltd; North East LEP; Northern Gas Network; Northumbrian Water Ltd; Quality of Life Partnership; Zero Carbon Futures.

    The Urban Living Partnership pilot phase in Newcastle and Gateshead will diagnose the complex and interdependent challenges within the urban region, working collaboratively to co-design and implement initiatives and solutions in order to contribute to the life and development of the area.

    Led by Newcastle University and featuring project partners from across the Quadruple Helix model from government, industry, academia and civil society, we will form the Newcastle City Futures Unit and implement an inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach to the initial 18 month pilot project, allowing us to synoptically approach challenges and develop a platform for innovative urban solutions.

    As a post-industrial urban area with more than 381,100 citizens, Newcastle and Gateshead form the heart of a contiguous urban conurbation of over 1 million people. We are a region facing numerous challenges, and perform below average on a number of socio-economic factors such as economic activity, educational attainment and health.

    Our pilot phase work will look to identify specific issues around these and other challenges, framed through our themes of 'Ageing', 'Sustainability' and 'Social Renewal', which have been identified previously as areas of particular significance for the city region.

    Newcastle and Gateshead provide the perfect platform to establish this pilot project, based on the success of the Newcastle City Futures 2065 project which was part of the UK Foresight Future of Cities programme.

    This work initiated collaborative working between HEIs and local authorities in the area in order to address long term complex city problems beyond traditional disciplines and sectors in order to reflect the complex government and organisational environment that is a hallmark of 21st century cities.

    This project acted as an urban incubator to identify themes through scenarios and Delphi methods which built on the existing assets of the city region to achieve innovation through research, policy development and demonstrator projects. The themes identified through this work were 'the age friendly city', 'the sustainable city', 'the creative city' and 'the science city', and along with evidence of a need for more detailed work to understand the drivers of change affecting cities.

    The work also identified the need for support for new digital platforms in order to exchange data across sectors, multifunctional demonstrator projects which offer innovative solutions to problems and opportunities across all sectors, as well as support for visualisation of long-term scenarios by bringing together expertise in areas such as computing, mapping, spatial analysis and urban planning.

    The Newcastle City Futures Unit will build on this, to establish an urban accelerator, to co-produce and collaboratively design practical solutions and policy recommendations in order to drive the future policy agenda and shape deliverable demonstration and innovation projects within Newcastle and Gateshead.

    An array of methods will be utilised across the duration of the project, including foresight futures methodologies such as Delphi surveys, scenario building and systems analysis work to help representatives from HEIs, businesses and civil society to identifying long-term challenges in the city region and to create a vision for the future of the cities that can be replicated elsewhere. Visualisation techniques will also be implemented combining expertise in computing, mapping, spatial analysis and urban planning, with consortium partners facilitating identification of suitable case studies for the work.

    Through the work outlined above, the Newcastle City Futures Unit will build capacity amongst a wide range of stakeholders to realise communities of practice that are futures oriented and make a measurable difference to the cities and their citizens.

  • EP/P001947/1 York City Environment Observatory: Diagnostic Phase - external link

    University of York and British Geological Survey. Principal Investigator: Professor Alistair Boxall.

    17 project partners including City of York Council, SimOmics, Arup (UK), Perkin Elmer Inc., Environment Agency and range of local partners and citizen groups.

    The York City Environment Observatory (YCEO) initiative, led by the University of York, brings together researchers, policymakers, planners, businesses and the public to provide a framework, tools and conceptual models at the urban scale that can be rolled-out to assist with governance of environments in York and other cities in the UK and around the world.

    At the core of YCEO is an integrated open-data programme to develop new monitoring, modelling and analytical technologies, such as wireless sensing networks, wearable devices, drones, crowdsourcing, 3D models of cities and virtual reality. The results of the programme will provide a better understanding of how to manage city environments and a prototype design for the YCEO, to be implemented within the next five years, accompanied by a roadmap for improving the health, wellbeing and equity of citizens and the economy of the city.

    The YCEO will also aid local, national and international stakeholders, including planners, businesses, residents and community groups, to devise low cost and innovative solutions to a range of problems identified as part of this diagnostic phase of the Urban Living Partnership.

2. The Urban Living Partnership brings together all seven research councils and Innovate UK to promote integrated research and innovation to address the challenges faced by urban areas in the UK and to help them realise their visions for future urban living.

The five pilot consortia were selected following peer review after an open competitive call for proposals submitted by 41 consortia.

Each of the five consortia is expected to conduct an initial pilot diagnostic phase focused on building integrated understanding of the challenges, opportunities and future visions of a specific UK city/urban area and developing agendas for future research and innovation.

3. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven research councils. Our collective ambition is to ensure the UK remains the best place in the world to do research, innovate and grow business. The research councils are central to delivering research and innovation for economic growth and societal impact. Together, we invest £3 billion in research each year, covering all disciplines and sectors, to meet tomorrow's challenges today. Our investments create new knowledge through: funding research excellence; responding to society's challenges; developing skills, leadership and infrastructure; and leading the UK's research direction. We drive innovation through: creating environments and brokering partnerships; co-delivering research and innovation with over 2,500 businesses, 1,000 of which are small and medium-sized enterprises; and providing intelligence for policy making.

The seven UK research councils are:

  • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

4. Innovate UK is the UK's innovation agency. Innovate UK works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy – delivering productivity, new jobs and exports. Our aim at Innovate UK is to keep the UK globally competitive in the race for future prosperity.