The European Commission’s Approach to Smart Cities; Why the West Midlands should engage

At a conference on November 26th 2013, hosted by the European Commission, it outlined its approach to Smart Cities. It launched its Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for Smart Cities and Communities. This can be downloaded from here.

Smart Cities

The Commission has formed a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) to steer this initiative made up of key European players in developing smart cities and they have had a major input into this plan. There were many speakers at the event but two key messages resonated:
• The need for citizens to be at the heart of Smart City initiatives
• The time has come for the end of pilot projects – there is a need for large scale replicable projects across Europe.

This EIP strive for a ‘triple bottom line’ gain for Europe: a significant improvement of citizens’ quality of life, an increased competitiveness of Europe’s industry and innovative SMEs together with a strong contribution to sustainability and the EU’s 20/20/20 energy and climate targets. This will be achieved through the wide-reaching roll out of integrated, scalable, sustainable Smart City solutions – specifically in areas where energy production, distribution and use; mobility and transport; and information and communication technologies are intimately linked.

So what are the key points to this plan?
• The Commission intends to make available approximately EUR 200 million for Smart Cities and communities in the 2014-2015 budgets of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, with more to come in future years.
• This, for once, is a co-ordinated initiative across a number of Directorates as it focuses on the ICT, energy and mobility overlap, i.e. the area where smart cities come into their own – the joining up.
• They are also keen for projects to access the European Structural and Investment Funds.
• The aim is to stimulate large scale role out of replicable solutions across the EU.
• The major element of the SIP is to propose ‘Lighthouse projects’.

What are Lighthouse Projects?
The Plan sees them as ‘Initiatives that bring together groups of cities with industry and innovative SMEs from the ICT, energy and mobility & transport sector to deliver common Smart City solutions thus creating scale and reducing risk for political decision makers as well as investors, to progressively support wider implementation across the EU as well as showcasing the competitiveness of European industry and innovative SMEs’.  It sees them working to integrate technologies across the ICT, energy and mobility & transport sector achieving for instance advances in

• ‘zero/plus’ energy districts,
• increased use of alternative energies,
• public transport and efficient logistics,
• or green, widely available ICTs and multiple-use infrastructures
These are seen as significant projects both in size but also in effectiveness.

Other Aspects of the Plan
Whilst lighthouse projects are what a number of European Cities are already chasing, there are other aspects including:
• Developing and applying new business and financial models and public-private partnerships that combine industry with public investments to promote Smart Cities.
• Advance Smart City open standards through a Smart City coordination group.
• Develop infrastructure platforms and common architectures for smart city information.
• Promoting an “open data by default” culture change within public and private actors.
• A framework to develop citizen insight.
• 100 short term staff exchanges between cities, industries and relevant NGOs to crowd-source the best ideas (to begin in 2014).
• Promote the implementation of collaborative, integrated smart city planning (city planning forums) and operation, that maximise city-wide data to deliver more agile processes; employing modern multi-criteria simulation and visualisation tools.

The obvious candidate for following this up in the West Midlands is Birmingham Smart City. With the work of the Smart City Commission; the Carbon Road map and the Birmingham Mobility Action plan much of the policy framework is in place and what it needs now is money. This initiative, especially through the Lighthouse projects, may provide some of that. That is not, however, to exclude other Cities and communities in the West Midlands who may find routes into this programme.

There is a briefing and potential partner matching session in Brussels via the ERRIN network on December 13th 2013. Short notice I know, but worth attending to put ourselves on the map. The West Midlands is still a member of ERRIN via the Birmingham and West Midlands Brussels office so it is my understanding that partners from the region can attend this. Good to check with ERRIN and the Brussels office first.

For more information on the Smart Cities and Communities EIP

Patrick Willcocks
European Policy and Urban Affairs Adviser