By Steven McGinty
According to research by Lucy Zodion, a leading designer and manufacturer of streetlighting equipment, smart cities are not deemed a priority for local government. The findings show that 80% of local authorities have little or no involvement with smart cities, and that only a few had specific teams managing smart city initiatives.
The research explains that the challenging financial environment was the main reason for the lack of prioritisation. However, it also finds despite funding challenges, some local councils have been successful at introducing initiatives, through working in partnership with private organisations and universities and encouraging local businesses to participate in developing solutions.
On our blog today, we’re going to look at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, a local council quietly leading the way in the smart cities revolution.
Greenwich Smart City Strategy
On the 22nd October 2015, Greenwich council officials launched their smart city strategy at the Digital Greenwich hub. Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, outlined the council’s reasoning for investing in technology, explaining that:
“In the face of the rapid increase in the borough’s population and in the face of globalization and technological change, we have to invest in the future and face these challenges head on, right now.”
The strategy introduces four key principles:
- Inclusivity – the strategy will benefit all citizens, communities and neighbourhoods.
- Citizen centric – citizen engagement will be transformed to ensure citizens are at the heart of policies and that their needs are met.
- Transparency – citizens will be informed of changes and desired outcomes and accessible information will be provided to all citizens.
- Standards and good practice – the Royal Borough of Greenwich will become a ‘learning organisation’, willing to listen and share ideas, and using evidence to inform decision-making.
The strategy also explains that it will transform four main areas:
- Transforming Neighbourhoods and Communities – the council will reach out to the Boroughs diverse communities, including strengthening links with key organisations to improve the quality of life for citizens, and introducing projects to reduce digital exclusion and promote digital skills.
- Transforming Infrastructure – the council will improve fixed and mobile connectivity in the Borough and encourage the widespread use of sensors in the built environment, to provide the building blocks for smart city projects.
- Transforming Public Services – innovative pilot projects will be introduced to help ensure public services are co-ordinated and citizen-centric.
- Transforming the Greenwich Economy – many jobs in Greenwich’s economy are vulnerable to automation, therefore the council will look to make businesses more resilient to technological change, as well as encourage the development of digital SMEs.
Bringing together the right team
Digital Greenwich has been established to develop and take forward Greenwich’s smart city strategy. The in-house, multidisciplinary team, provides expertise in the areas related to smart cities, such as the modern built environment, implementing Government as a Platform, and economic regeneration in the digital age.
The team will play an important role in shaping thinking, managing pilot projects to mitigate the risks of innovation, and ensuring that the council’s strategy is aligned with emerging practice.
The ‘Sharing Cities’ Lighthouse programme
The ‘Sharing Cities’ Lighthouse programme is a €25m project, which involves cities from across Europe investigating how innovative technology can be used to improve the lives of citizens. As part of this programme, Greenwich will act as a demonstrator area and trial several initiatives, including:
- introducing 300 smart parking bays to help drivers find parking quickly and conveniently
- developing a shared electric bicycle and car scheme to reduce the number of citizens using private cars
- installing solar panels in local homes to improve energy efficiency
- using the River Thames to provide affordable heating for local homes.
Digital Greenwich and Surrey University
On 27th July 2016, Digital Greenwich and the University of Surrey set up a partnership to develop smart city technologies, with a focus on creating ‘resource-efficient, low-carbon, healthy and liveable neighbourhoods’. The Digital Greenwich team will now have access to the university’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), which will enable it to develop and trial smart city solutions. The university have highlighted that the centre’s 5G infrastructure (the next generation of communications technology) will provide the opportunity to scale solutions to a city or national level.
The university’s 5GIC is funded by a £12 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council.
Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Denise Hyland, commented that the new partnership will act as a ‘valuable catalyst’ to their smart city strategy and help strength the Borough’s economy and improve services.
GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment)
GATEway is a collaborative project involving academia, government and industry in the field of automated vehicle research. It’s led by TRL, the UK’s transport research centre, and has several aims, including:
- safely and efficiently integrating automated transport systems into real life smart city environments
- inspiring industry, government and the wider public to engage with using autonomous transport technology
- understanding the technical, legal, cultural and social barriers that impact the adoption of autonomous transport technology
One of the companies involved in the research (based at the Digital Greenwich Innovation Centre) is Phoenix Wings Ltd, who specialise in innovative mobility solutions, fleet management and autonomous vehicle technology. In 2014, they announced ‘Navia’, the first commercially available 100% driverless shuttle.
The GATEway project is funded by an £8 million grant by industry and Innovate UK.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) have highlighted that local council spending power reduced by 23.4% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2014–15. This is clearly significant, particularly when there is pressure to meet greater demands.
However, to conclude, we’ll leave you with the comments of Professor Gary Hamel, a leading management expert,
“My argument is the more difficult the economic times, the more one is tempted to retrench, the more radical innovation becomes the only way forwards. In a discontinuous world, only radical innovation will create new wealth.”
Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this interesting, you may also like to read our other digital articles:
- Now we’ve got a Local Government Digital Service Standard … what now?
- Delivering digital differently: how should we provide public services in the future?
- Top 5 crowdsourcing initiatives in government: better engagement with citizens
- The digital world … why local government is still running to catch up
- Digital transformation in government: moving towards 100% digital
- Digital leadership: how should digital be represented at board level
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Steven – thanks for highlighting this example where the Digital Greenwich strategy holds important clues for many other Local Authorities. Whilst enthusiastic technologists pursue their Smart City aspirations, Greenwich has interpreted the opportunities in ways that are less Smart City (tech led) and rather more ‘Intelligent Community’ – where the drivers rise above tech-novelty to be focused on outcomes for citizens, commerce and community.
If technologists feel that Local Authorities are failing to invest they should first look to help identify local economic and social imperatives – co-creating plans and leadership to resolve them. Only then can solutions be sought. Some of those may require new tech and vastly better connectivity. The four main themes in Greenwich are a very useful starting point. I’d also recommend reading ‘Brain Gain’ by Bell, Jung and Zacharilla – ISBN 9 781499 228021 .
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Hi David, thanks for commenting. Some very good points as usual – co-creating plans may have to be my next article! I’ll certainly check out the book you recommended.