Milton Keynes in race to win £24m to become ‘modern city in the country’

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THE council is through to the second round of a race to win £24 million of cash and turn Milton Keynes into ‘an exemplar city of the future’.

MK is one of 30 cities and boroughs across Britain to be awarded £50,000 to carry out a feasibility study into development plans.

The money comes from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board which says the overall winner will show how they will ‘integrate their transport, communications and other infrastructure to improve the local economy, increase quality of life and reduce impact on the environment’.

MK’s bid is a joint project between Milton Keynes Council and the University Centre Milton Keynes (UCMK).

The eventual winner of the competition will be given £24m to become a ‘demonstrator city’ – showcasing how modern technology, intelligently applied, can dramatically improve the lives of its citizens.

The aim is that the winner would effectively be transformed into the most modern city in the country.

Dean of UCMK, Professor Keith Straughan, said: “The University is delighted to be an integral part of this project which we will support through the research of our Smart Cities Institute – part of the University of Bedfordshire – created together with Milton Keynes Council.

“We are looking at how cities can become self-aware and react instantly and imaginatively to internal and external influences.”

A smart city is one where technology and infrastructure support the needs of growing urban populations to make sure cities run as smoothly and sustainably as possible. If successful, the scheme would attempt to integrate everything in the city from transport and waste disposal to power generation, healthcare, use of renewables and communication for maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact.

Milton Keynes Council Deputy leader, Councillor David Hopkins, said: “This is excellent news for Milton Keynes. The project offers the potential for the council working with business to test new and innovative solutions for connecting and integrating individual city ‘systems’, and will allow us to explore new approaches to delivering a sustainable and ever-developing local economy together with excellent quality of life, while at the same time reducing the environmental footprint and increasing resilience to what seems to be an inevitable period of environmental challenge.”

Milton Keynes is already a pioneering city for electric cars and the council, in partnership with Eon, has 75 experimental homes that use smart technology.

In some, householders can switch on their central heating system for certain rooms from their iPad, so they can, for instance, heat their home just as they are leaving work.

Next year, electric buses should be introduced to MK, alongside a scheme to provide smart journey planning via mobile phones.

Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, Iain Gray, said: “We planned originally to fund 20 feasibility studies but because of the number of high quality initial proposals received from councils across the whole country we decided to increase the funding available so that 30 studies could be carried out.

“The results will be made public and we look forward to seeing some exciting future city demonstrator proposals.”

Professor Straughan said the potential success of such a scheme would rely heavily on the engagement of local people and business.

“We could have a system whereby you tell your dishwasher to switch itself on when the sun is shining and the electricity isn’t costing you anything,” he added.

“The technology bit is challenging but the even bigger challenge is designing the smart city to be effective and acceptable for its citizens and businesses.

“Part of the challenge is to reduce the complexity to make the new smart systems simple enough that people are happy to use them and getting them on board with the wider concept – that they’re saving money individually and collectively, that what they’re doing is sustainable, but most importantly that they want to do it and can see the potential pay-back in terms of convenience or lower costs.”

The final bid must be completed by November, with the eventual winner due to be announced in January 2013.