Newcastle University has unveiled plans to invest £50m to make the city a world-leading example of urban sustainability.
Based in the heart of Newcastle, the university yesterday revealed proposals to build a pioneering research centre at Science City’s Science Central site – the former home of Scottish and Newcastle brewery – which aims to create a new urban quarter for the city over the next two decades.
The ‘living lab’ will trial technologies and systems including an urban observatory to monitor data such as traffic flow, extreme weather conditions and air quality.
The plans also feature a £2m Cloud Computing Centre which will integrate and analyse all the data so it can be turned into ‘actionable information’ that will help businesses, councils and communities to make their city a more sustainable place to live.
The university presence on Science Central is part of its commitment to the Science City partnership with Newcastle City Council.
Professor Phil Taylor, Newcastle University’s director of the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, says the plans have been in development for some time while researchers built a solid business case to present to the university. “They could see it was a good way for them to invest strategic funds and that we would get great returns through fantastic research outcomes, collaborations with industries and other partners on the site including the city council,” said Prof Taylor.
He added: “The £50m is from the university itself so they’ve been planning this for a long time and they’ve got a strategic resource that they can use to invest in the long-term future. This is seen as an investment in growth for Newcastle University to make sure that it stays competitive nationally and internationally.”
The team of engineers, scientists and digital researchers from the university will work with the public to learn what they need to improve their everyday lives, and then use the feedback, together with information about energy systems, environment and mobility from hundreds of hi-tech sensors across the city to compile data that they hope will make the city more sustainable and efficient. The plans integrate a number of different disciplines and strands that can be collated together so a city can be looked at in a holistic way so urban sustainability can be delivered in years to come.
As part of this approach, Newcastle University has teamed up with other firms to such as Northern Powergrid and Northumbrian Water to deliver specific aspects of their research. Prof Taylor added: “We are working with Northumbrian Water, for example, on urban drainage systems and how to make those sustainable and how to avoid flooding in the city. We are working with Northern Powergrid building a smart grid on the site which is an intelligent electrical system that allows you to integrate electric vehicles, heat pumps and renewable energy in a low cost and efficient way and it helps you keep the lights on the city.
“We are also building an open energy storage test bed, we’ve got £2m from the Government to build this on the site and make open to businesses who come and work with us to crack those challenges. We won £2m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, to build a Cloud Computing Centre here, so it’s about bringing those strands together and the over-arching phrase is ‘digitally enabled urban sustainability’.
“It’s about the heavy engineering aspects but it’s also about the environmental aspect and all of that is underpinned and enabled through data collection, data visualisation and then turning that into actionable information that industries, councils, communities can use to make the city a better more sustainable place to live.”
The long-term plan is to link up with other ‘smart cities’ across the globe that are investing in urban sustainability projects so Newcastle can share best practice with world-leading cities in this field.
There will also be a strong community-focus within the research centre and bosses have said there will be an “open door policy” with everybody in the city. Prof Taylor explained: “It’s a very democratic project because one of things we want to do is, as well as collecting a lot of data about what’s happening in the city, we are also going to make that data available, it’s going to be open to the public. Also a lot of the data is going to be crowd-sourced so they can tweet and send information about what’s happening in the city around them and we will bring that in and use it and share that information back with the people of the city so the idea is that the communities in Newcastle will actually be key participants in what goes on.”
The 108,000 sq ft digital hub is expected to be completed in 2017. As well as housing the research teams, Newcastle University’s Computing Sciences department will also be moved into the new building. There will be a strong emphasis on education with plans to invite children from local schools in to use a self-organising learning environment which is being developed by Professor Sugata Mitra.
Green science hub will offer homes, businesses and more
THE idea behind Science Central was to create a green science hub that would attract hi-tech businesses into the city.
Over the next 15 to 20 years construction will take place to build a mixed use urban quarter that will be made up of businesses, residential homes, leisure facilities and public open spaces.
One North East, the city council and Newcastle University jointly acquired the 24-acre former brewery site in 2006 to bring forward £255m worth of investment over the next two decades.
However, the future of the project was put in question two years ago when the Government scrapped regional development agency One North East, which had a one-third share worth £8m in the overall project. But the university and council leaders spent £3m to take control of their share in the project which enabled the plans to continue moving forward.
Work is currently under way on the first new building on the site – The Core – which is due for completion in autumn next year. There will also be two public spaces opened for members of the community in 2014.
The long-term plans also include a specialist business support hub and state-of-the-art facilities for small start-up science companies as well as inward investors.
Sitting alongside the academic and business neighbours will be homes and apartments, accommodation for students at Newcastle University along with leisure and retail facilities.
Fiona Standfield, director of Newcastle Science City said the £50m investment by Newcastle University will help attract like-minded businesses to invest in the site.
She said: “There’s been great interest and inquiries from businesses and today’s announcement will just support that and will generate more so we’re really looking forward to that actually happening over the next few weeks and months and then we can start building on that as we use today’s announcement to start raising the profile of the whole project and the whole site in attracting leading science businesses to Newcastle.”
Andrew Lewis, assistant chief executive at Newcastle City Council, added: “For us in the city this is really what makes the site work, what this offers to business is that you can come here and locate next to world-leading research that can be of benefit to the bottom line of your business and help to take the city forward.
“This isn’t just some out-of-town science park this is right in the centre of the city of Newcastle. This is a big step forward and a great sign of the partnership between the council and the university that have made this happen over many years now but we’ve now really reached the stage where we can look forward to substantial private sector interest alongside what the university are doing.”