The UK has committed itself to a path towards smarter, more connected cities for the future. The government has invested in smart solutions, with over £50m of funding already provided to the Future Cities Catapult alone.
However, independent research has highlighted a concerning lack of awareness and involvement in smart city projects among UK councils.
The report compiles research gathered from senior-level contacts at 187 councils across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, conducted by DJS Research on behalf of Lucy Zodion. The majority of councils contacted admitted that smart cities were not a strategic priority for them; over 80% have no teams or individuals for smart city delivery and low awareness of smart initiatives.
The findings indicate that the UK risks a three-tiered approach to smart city delivery: early adopters who have previously secured funding are striving ahead with smart initiatives, whereas other councils who are keen to progress are lacking do not have those resources to do so – and there are many more who do not grasp the potential benefits of smart cities at all.
These barriers to progress are also preventing councils from accessing the environmental benefits that a smart city can offer.
A number of reasons were cited for the lack of smart progress in some regions, and they are all interlinked. Many said that it was difficult to find funding for smart initiatives at a time when council budgets are already stretched to capacity; this problem is exacerbated by the perceived lack of sustainable business cases for smart city projects – as the majority of live examples are in pilot phases, the proof of return on investment (crucial to gaining the support of senior council members) is hard to find. There is also a lack of collaboration among different council departments, leading to councils not sharing information internally or with other councils.
These barriers to progress are also preventing councils from accessing the environmental benefits that a smart city can offer. A simple example is a lamppost: smarter street lighting alone can reduce energy consumption by at least 40% – but lampposts can also host sensors to monitor air and noise quality, traffic volumes and emissions, providing data to both monitor and act upon. The urbanisation of cities calls for smarter, more efficient services – hindering progress can only have a negative impact on urban sustainability.
Many councils in the UK are unable to make smart cities a strategic priority. It is evident that we need leadership to make smart cities work: from government to provide a clearer path to delivery and from local authorities to create an over-arching strategy to suit individual cities.
For councils across the UK to benefit from smart cities, we must learn from those ‘enlightened’ few who are leading the way. Councils must work together to find the most cost-efficient way to deliver smart solutions and create an over-arching strategy for the future of their city. This will be crucial to unlocking the benefits that smart cities can offer councils, communities, and the citizens that live within them.