Sunderland’s year as the UK’s smartest city

City of Sunderland

Written by Liz St Louis, Assistant Director of Digital and Customer Services and Smart City Programme Lead at Sunderland City Council.

Dynamic. Healthy. Vibrant. Since being named the UK’s smartest city at the Digital Leaders 100 List 2020, Sunderland has continued on an upward trajectory in the development of digital capabilities across the city.

2021 has seen momentum gather and our journey has paved the way for the evolution of ‘Sunderland Our Smart City Programme’, a programme committed to arming our city with the digital capabilities to improve the economy and quality of life via digital access, support, and education.

Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council is at the helm of leading Sunderland towards a brighter, more digitally-equipped future. After recently being appointed to the UK5G Advisory Board, Patrick joins a national network of experts, striving to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global 5G development.

Patrick said: “Sunderland has worked tirelessly to become one of the first cities in the UK deploying a 5G ready operational network to deliver free ultrafast WiFi to key city locations making our city smarter, opening up a world of opportunity and cementing our reputation as a digital leader.”


Connecting people to places through the power of 5G

Improving connectivity across Sunderland has been a key factor to connect people, places, and businesses through 5G technology, whilst upskilling businesses and residents, alongside the development of digital resources within the region.

Our Smart City achievements over the past two years are vast and continuously expanding, with stakeholder engagement at the forefront to inform our ambitious vision and digital strategy. 

Key transformations have seen the rollout of free ultrafast public WiFi, introducing traffic-mapping transport solutions to allow real-time traffic management and inform traffic flow to being selected as one of only two location partners to deliver the Homes for Healthy Ageing Programme, which will see the implementation of a test bed exploring how technology can be used to deliver healthier homes in the city.

The nurturing and growth of partnership working has also been instrumental to us to support continued capacity in the city’s capabilities as we drive city-wide investment in next generation digital infrastructure.


Building a smart infrastructure

A partnership has been formed with Digital Catapult to deliver two local innovation challenges around transport and smart building solutions, which will see technology being used to support the City’s carbon neutral ambitions. 

A collaborative £4.8 million 5G CAL (Connected and Automated Logistics) pilot is supporting a huge stride forward in the North East, with a focus on establishing a unique centre of excellence and operational test facility to deliver the first autonomous HGV, powered by 5G.

Our recent announcement of the new BAI communications partnership is a shining example of collaboration at its best, and will see BAI build a new 5G centric network to accelerate adoption of transformative digital services for sectors including manufacturing and logistics, education and social care. 

Through the partnership and support from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and HM Government’s Getting Building Fund, we will be able to scale our advanced smart city plan. Roll-out of this new next generation connectivity across Sunderland will stimulate economic growth and reduce digital exclusion, creating over 100 jobs.

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive, Sunderland City Council, said: “This is an incredibly significant milestone in the development and future of Sunderland Our Smart City. We are very much looking forward to our 20-year strategic partnership with BAI, as its team helps us realise our ambitions and make our goals a reality. We are confident the benefits of this partnership will reach every resident, organisation and business within our city and indeed the wider area.”

The past year has also seen further award success for us including, Winner of the Harvard 2020 Civic Innovation in Technology Award for advancements in Assistive Technology and Winner of the Digital Council of the Year 2021 Award at the prestigious Connected Britain Awards.

Significant investment has been made into our city including a £62m investment from CityFibre, £10m investment from Netomnia and Virgin Media have completed an upgrade to the existing footprint of 80, 000 properties to 1GB connections. Alongside, a government bid for £5m to support smart city infrastructure including fibre and 5G networks, enabling some of the UK’s smartest homes to be located right here in Sunderland. 


Sunderland’s digital transformation

In short, our innovative City Plan continues to future-proof Sunderland via a connected, forward-thinking approach. Investment, collaboration and innovation has led to the transformation of our reputation as a leading smart city. Our smart city initiatives will provide the perfect foundation to implement solutions from city-wide WiFi, traffic control, high-definition CCTV, an e-Mobility hub and much more, with further developments in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond to promote a healthy, vibrant and dynamic smart city of the future.

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