Eversheds Sutherland hosts ‘Leeds: SMART city’ seminar

The seminar led by Eversheds Sutherland, Leeds City Council, Vodafone and WSP Brinckerhoff, highlighted several interesting and important topics in relation to SMART cities and ensured some interesting debate.

Leeds City Council’s Chief Digital Officer, Dylan Roberts, talked through the Leeds SMART city strategy and its importance in enabling better outcomes to the city and how a combined SMART city working together is a benefit for all.

Adrian Kemp from WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff highlighted the impact of future and upward demographic, social and mobility trends and what it means for connected and autonomous cars and how a SMART city is built on proper planning and connectivity, more so important amidst the Northern Powerhouse agenda with greater pressure on the transport system. Echoing Dylan’s points Adrian emphasised the importance of data especially for the transport system and SMART motorways.

Simon Wright from Vodafone stressed that cities do need to get smarter, however there were several important drivers behind SMART cities which need to work with one another and balance each other out. The need for legislation is key and a driving factor behind the success of SMART cities but it is also important to address the needs of the citizens in terms of their expectations. A SMART city is built on votes, jobs and economic growth and so can help to rebalance the UK economy, which is even more important after the Brexit vote.

The final session ended with some lively Q&A during which questions were posed around autonomous cars and other SMART technology and how they can become a reality. The speakers agreed that it had to be a gradual change in terms of launching new practices and technologies and stressed the importance around consumers needing to see the benefit rather than the ‘money-making’ producers. Dylan Roberts reiterated the importance of legislation for these new technologies and companies in that understanding regulation enables proper governance and ultimately success for SMART processes.

In answer to a question around there needing to be a body drawing the SMART agenda/ companies together, Dylan Roberts spoke about the market being in need of more open standards and it was up to the government to get stronger in facing vendors to open up their systems. The general public need to be more in-tune with what SMART technology can do for their lives. Simon Wright argued that Vodafone’s role was to ensure that both public and private sector companies embrace the intellectual capital in the city and for them to facilitate ideas as much as possible. The public sector, he said, needs to sell more to the private sectors perhaps with the use of outcome based contracts listing key benefits. Overall more collaboration was needed within the SMART city space.

In answer to a question around how the SMART city can negatively affect how we interact with our environment and social behaviour Simon Wright believed the opposite was true as he sees SMART technology as actually empowering people and giving them a voice in their regions, something that he has seen happen in other parts of the world. Adrian Kemp, too, believed SMART technology had potential for more of a positive effect on citizens particularly in how using data enables greater efficiency in managing temperature, the weather etc. He stated that greater systems will make our lives more user friendly.

And finally, in response to a question around whether certain places were adapting to SMART technology particularly well it was stated that, although no-where has really overcome the many SMART challenges, places such as Spain were particularly embracing the technology in that they are less afraid to fail so their speed of innovation is swift. Sharing open platform approaches, something that is needed throughout the UK cities, would certainly help transformation of SMART city technology for the future.

Location: