£16m funding backs ‘smart’ economic growth in Milton Keynes

Oct 23, 2013


The money has come from a £8 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund, match funded by a consoprtium led by the Open University.
As Milton Keynes grows, so pressure is expected to increase on the city’s  transport, water and energy supplies. The way the city manages its expansion will help to drive economic growth and be a demonstration project for cities across the world, says the OU.
The project will show how universities can support the drive for economic growth by applying their expertise to ‘smart’ solutions based on the analysis of the huge data flows that city networks are increasingly generating.
Central to the project will be the creation of a state-of-the-art ‘MK Data Hub’ which will draw together information from a range of sources across the city, including energy, transport and water use data, satellite data, social and economic datasets, and data from social media or through specialised apps. 
As well as being used to develop solutions for better managing supply and demand across the city’s transport, water and energy supplies, the data hub will also support business growth – creating opportunities for local enterprises to develop new products and services by using and adding value to the data. 
Along with MK Data Hub, a dedicated business incubation space will be located at the University Campus Milton Keynes, which will help new businesses to innovate and compete in the rapidly growing digital economy.
More than 40,000 jobs are expected to be created in Milton Keynes over the next 15 years. However, analysts fear that the growth could outstrip the capacity of the city’s transport infrastructure and put pressure on water resources, while energy companies are facing challenging carbon reduction targets. 
The new data hub will work to develop ‘smart’ solutions to these problems. 
The consortium brings together the Open University, the University of Bedfordshire, Cambridge University, British Telecom, Dell, E.ON, Anglian Water, HR Wallingford, the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre, Milton Keynes Council, Community Action MK, Graymatter, Fronesys and Playground Energy.
OU Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Blackman, said: “This exciting project will not only directly benefit Milton Keynes but will also demonstrate ways forward for other cities right around the world. 
“The success of this bid builds on strong existing partnerships and the forward-looking vision of Milton Keynes Council.  The funding will help us apply the expertise we have developed at the OU in data analytics to new approaches to managing city infrastructures and achieving sustainable growth.”
Cllr David Hopkins, cabinet member for economic development and enterprise at Milton Keynes Council, said: “Milton Keynes has always had the reputation as a place that thinks differently and ambitiously, constantly embracing new ideas.
“We are constantly evolving to use energy, information and other resources in innovative ways.
“The MK Data Hub will be an invaluable resource helping to drive things forward, bringing together the various strands of vital key data to take us to the next level.” 
The concept of ‘big data’ is one of the government’s key technologies of the future, designed to be cutting edge innovation on a global level.
David Sweeney, HEFCE director for research, innovation and skills, said: “What is particularly special to me is the depth and diversity of the partnerships in the project: between very different types of university playing to different strengths; between public and private sectors; between national and local and between big and small companies.
“It has also provided an opportunity for deepening the partnership between HEFCE and the Technology Strategy Board to drive forward growth and forge stronger links between universities and the catapults.”
The successful bid was led by Professor Enrico Motta, of the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute. He will take up the post of project director.
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