Newcastle – Building on ‘Smart City of the Year’

Smart City of the Year

Written by Jenny Nelson, Digital Newcastle Programme Manager, Newcastle City Council

It was fantastic to scoop the Digital Leaders award for Smart City of the Year 2019. It is prestigious recognition of the excellent collaboration and ambitious thinking in Newcastle. But as I said in my blog in August, we won’t rest on our laurels; the time is now for new projects, new partners and new opportunities.   

We’ve been working on a range of initiatives contributing to our three digital objectives – improving outcomes for people; delivering cost savings in public service delivery and continuing to promote Newcastle as a testbed for tech innovation, growth, and economic development.

We wanted to put user centred design at the heart of our smart city and understand where innovation can add most value to people. That’s why we’re leading an exciting ‘City Listening’ project with local SME Wordnerds, and mining social media (Twitter and other platforms) using their advanced linguistics and AI tool to hear what people are saying about their experiences in the city. We’re using this data to influence and inform our backlog of transformation opportunities.   

Our work with our Innovation Partner, Urban Foresight, has seen Newcastle City Council supporting sustainable transport through increasing our corporate fleet electric vehicles by 140% and supporting a carbon reduction of 2,700 tonnes over seven years, improving business efficiency by developing an alpha model for the use of AI in parking enforcement activity, and improving customer experience through better data visualization of parking information. We’re now modelling the business case for smart parking, building on user needs and making sure we are continuing our “tech fed, not tech led” approach to transformation.        

We are building on our ambition to be the most attractive place to deploy connectivity and innovation which underpins any smart city. Going beyond just ‘barrier busting’, we’ve listened to suppliers to understand their needs, radically streamlined our wayleaves and property access processes, and drafted firmer commitments in planning policy and guidance. 

 As part of the North of Tyne Digital Infrastructure Programme we are about to procure full fibre connectivity to all public sector sites, laying strong foundations for further commercial deployment into our communities. This is in addition to supporting commercial fibre and 5G deployments already underway in the city by CityFibre, Openreach, EE and O2 among others. In partnership with Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory we’re also progressing a LoRaWan deployment of gully sensors to support flood prevention activities and understand the scope of potential operational efficiencies.   

In October we demonstrated our ongoing commitment to supporting digital skills development by launching a new free to access Learn My Way module as part of Get Online Week. November saw us partnering with Cisco to share the Newcastle story on an international stage at the Barcelona Smart Cities Expo, which was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to make new contacts. In December, we hosted a Digital Leaders event focused on how ‘XR’ technology could be used for social good – something we’ll be looking to progress further in 2020 where there are clear user needs. 

In summary, 2020 is about impact and being able to demonstrate the improved outcomes for people in the city being driven by innovation and transformation. By continuing our strong track record of collaboration, and working with public, private and academic partners across the city, I’m confident that we can do this.

Jenny Nelson will be speaking about ‘Newcastle Innovation Partnership: Turning Good Ideas into Transformational Projects’ at her Insight Live talk on the 2nd of March. You can sign up to attend for free here.

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