Well-connected places in a changing world

For the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), that means providing efficient transport networks and widely accessible digital connectivity. But it also means looking to the future, where mobility will be key.

We face a combination of increasing public concern for the environment, the pressing need to decarbonise and the pressure on service provision faced by all local authorities, with the added challenges of the risks and opportunities of Brexit.

As place shapers, we have to tackle these challenges with constrained budgets and high public expectations. Place leaders are at the coalface of our changing world, finding a balance between delivering universally accessed services with fewer resources today, against the need to plan for, fund and deliver the places of tomorrow.

Our November conference, ‘Well-connected places in a changing world’, was a much-needed opportunity to explore and debate these challenges with our corporate partners, key influencers and wider membership.

It is impossible to look at any of these huge issues in isolation – they are all interconnected”

In uncertain times, we are working to create thriving, resilient and sustainable communities. We are creating policies that support the environment, health and wellbeing and the growth of the green economy, and that deliver climate change adaptation and mitigation schemes.

Our policies need to encourage clean growth and deliver the highways of the future, where autonomous vehicles and ‘mobility as a service’ (MaaS) will revolutionise how we get around. Equally, the adoption of 5G, on which much of our future connectivity will depend, demands a new approach to enabling modern digital infrastructure.

From our work developing the next generation of aspiring place directors to our programme of thought leadership, we are working to ensure that our members are equipped for the challenges ahead.

ADEPT has been meeting these challenges head-on. Our response has been to innovate, to build partnerships, strengthen our networks and take the lead in creating and sharing best practice, influencing government and shaping policy.

Our £22.9 million SMART Places Live Labs programme, funded by the Department for Transport, is a testbed for innovation. SMART objectives are specific, measurable, available, relevant and time-bound. Eight labs, led by local authorities working with corporate and academic partners, are creating and testing scalable projects across local roads using SMART mobility, energy, materials and communications. They are already sharing their work with ADEPT members and the wider transport sector.

We need to explore more opportunities for knowledge-sharing and innovation and this means inclusivity, whether this is working with our diverse communities, our corporate partners or with each other.

We live in increasingly febrile times where the public is looking for solutions to seemingly intractable issues, all heightened by Brexit. Inevitably, there will need to be a period of reconciliation, when our communities can come back together.

Local leadership has never been so important. It is impossible to look at any of these huge issues in isolation – they are all interconnected and impact on each other. Place is ultimately about people, and the pressures of funding one aspect of local authority provision affects all others.

This is why the key local authority professional associations are coming together to speak in one voice about the issues that face us all, both as service providers and as colleagues. This conversation has just begun, so watch this space as we develop our ideas going forward.

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