The UK Cities Agenda in 2018 – Infrastructure and Technology

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Following on from my post last week with my thoughts on the big city policy issues for the year ahead. Here are my predictions of the big Infrastructure and Technology issues for UK cities for the rest of 2018.

Technological change is impacting on the role and shape of cities. Policy makers are increasingly interested in the impact of automation on city economies and their labour markets. The impact of robotics, 3D printing and the fourth industrial revolution are already impacting manufacturing. There will be profound implications for skills and training policy as an excellent recent article by Sarah O’Conner explains. Transformational technologies suh as AI, big data and distributed ledger technologies will disrupt sectors such as financial and professional services, legal, health and social care, and engineering. As Centre for Cities have set out, there will be winners and losers amongst firms, workers and cities. Those that can adapt to and be at the leading edge of this change will prosper, those that do not will be left behind.

I also think and hope we will see the emergence of a smarter approach to smart cities focusing less on technology-led solutions, and more on creating common platforms and standards for innovation and invetsment in open data, big data, and IoT. the focus needs to be less on the clever technology, and more on finding clever things to do with it. This applies to 5G, where I helped set out Leeds’s ambitions. Far sighted Chief Digital Officers such as Theo Blackell in London, or Dylan Roberts in Leeds are leading the way here.

Cities and city regions are developing strategies for maximising the benefits of large infrastructure projects. This is being done through the HS2 Growth Strategies, for example in Leeds City Region which is a plan for HS2 as part of a coherent vision for the trnsport nework as a whole, for maximising regneration opportunities at stations, connecting people and firms to the new job and business opportunities that will be created, and capturing economic uplift to create new funding streams. Expect to see more of these strategies, and for major projects beyond HS2.

We will also see cities develop strategies for imporoving air quality, although it is debatable whether any UK cities are being bold enough given the scale of the public health crisis caused by vehicle emisisons. Electric vehicles have an important role to play. Cities need coherent strategies for how they get their electricity networks, car parks, charging infrastructure, and planning policies ready for a big uptake in EVs.

As Connected Autonomous Vehicles move from being a futuristic vision to a realistic prospect, expect more analysis and debate about the implications for cities. This needs to start with consideration of what digital infrastructure will be required. High bandwidth small cell communications technology such as 5G will have a role to play here. Trust tech systems will be needed that are open enough to enable the vehicles to communicate in real-time with each other and the roads, but secure enough not to be hacked. Autonomous Vehicles may enable densification of city centres, as they do not necessarily need to be parked at the origin or destination.

The debate about regional disparities in transport and infrastructure spending will rumble on. The huge differences in regional transport spending per head have been highlighted by the recent analysis by IPPR North. Yorkshire and Humber is bottom of the spending league table, with the North East and South West faring little better, and all with spending per head less than half the national average. There is a palpable sense of anger in these places. I hope the debate becomes a wider one, which is not just about cities and regions making their case for central government spending, but also making a case for greater freedoms and flexibilities about how they can raise their own finance.

I predict we will see a greater focus on the future role and development potential of railway stations and their environs. Network Rail, following its reclassification, needs to look at new innovative ways of raising finance for improving major stations as gateways and interchanges. This could include looking at retail and leisure development within stations, and adjacent site high density commercial and residential development. I think there are some useful lessons from the work to produce an integrated masterplan for Leeds Station, which is the busiest transport hub in the north. This includes getting the relevant interested parties around the table, working together in a genuine spirit of partnership, and shaping and committing to a shared vision and plan.






About citypolicy

Interested in what makes cities and regions dynamic, competitive and sustainable. I blog in a personal capacity. I work for Arup as Director, Cities Advisory. I was previously with Leeds City Council as Chief Economic Development Officer.
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