21 November 2016


How innovation and investment will build our future cities - #CBI2016 panel session

How can innovative approaches to policy technology and the urban environment help to drive prosperity in the UK? Our panel of experts share their knowledge and experience at #CBI2016.

How innovation and investment will build our future cities - #CBI2016 panel session

The vote to leave the EU highlighted the need to ensure growth benefits all parts of the country, so prosperity is shared across the regions and nations of the UK. Facilitator Joel Hills, our DG Carolyn Fairbairn, Michael B. Hancock, Chris Ireland and Dr. Alison Vincent discuss the role that innovation, technology and ambitious public policy can play in supporting regional growth.

Today’s conference has so far focused on the amazing potential benefits that innovation can have for UK economic growth, so this session focuses in on how we can deliver growth in the places we all live around the country. Investment and innovation have a key role to play.

Time for the smart city

There are massive opportunities for future cities: technology can make them operate vastly more effectively, and for this reason, a central theme of this session was the smart city. A smart city is effectively a digitised and connected city that makes intelligent use of data.

One example, shared by Dr. Vincent, is Santander in Spain where local governments came together to try and improve the experience of the city. They invested in 25,000 sensors which took in information about air quality, parking and more. This investment has improved commuting times and reduced pollution. But the needs of a city can vary, a smart city should meet the needs of its citizens.

Building a smart city

How do we build a smart city? It’s all about connectivity, as Chris Ireland laid out, this is partly to do with ensuring new buildings that are flexible, innovative and smart but it’s also about creating vibrant connected public spaces that bring communities together. This can enable the creation of the kind of connected data that can supports better decisions by individuals and local government.

Can we really expect strong growth across the regions?

But can we really expect investments in technology to equalise growth? The evidence from the session suggests it plays a role, but it’s not the only factor. Other investments are needed too. For example, Carolyn talked about the success Leeds is having in attracting the great graduates the city needs to grow, but there are challenges too: with rail links proving a challenge.

Indeed, we saw in this session that local transport and connectivity can be a barrier when it doesn’t work, but an enabler when it does. The right public sector investment has a role in jump-starting private investment. For example, Mayor of Denver, Michael B. Hancock said that in Denver a $4.7bn investment in their public transit system has led to a boost in economic development around the transit development sites, for example encouraging global brands to invest in the areas.

It’s worth saying these large-scale investments require political buy-in. Certainly, Denver’s transit investment was very challenging to bring to fruition, requiring a lot of political support. But it has proved worthwhile, and Denver has grown strongly. There are growing pains though, with increases in housing prices and congestions. These are Denver’s next policy challenges. Perhaps a step to becoming a smart city could help?