Minister launches £3.9m Big Data initiative for UK cities

The government has announced the launch of the first phase of a £3.9m Big Data initiative – aimed at improving the quality of life in five UK cities.

Councils in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle & Gateshead and York are involved in partnerships with will take a “whole city” approach to policy making.

The Urban Living Partnership will see investment from the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK and seven research councils.

Minister for universities and 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.” 

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The first phase will see councils collaborate with university researchers, businesses and the  third sector.

Projects use data from environmental monitoring, urban modelling and crowdsourcing tools, as well as technologies such as wireless sensing networks, wearable devices and virtual reality systems.

Another strand will see 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, 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.

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.”

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.”

Colin Marrs

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