Last week I led a British parliamentary delegation to the People’s Republic of China. It was for the 9th UK-China Young Leaders’ Roundtable, an event I’ve been privileged to attend on six occasions now. They’re reciprocal visits, so the 10th Roundtable is in London next year, and they provide an invaluable forum for the exchange of ideas, views and solutions to challenges facing both countries, and indeed the globe. This year’s theme was ‘innovation, environmental protection and sustainable development’.

The reason I raise the Roundtable is because much of our discussion focused on the development of ‘Smart Cities’. Indeed we visited the city of Jinan in Shandong Province where they are utilising smart city technology to control traffic, tackle air pollution and to manage local public services. It was impressive to see how the Chinese (and to be fair, a large number of other countries around the world) are using this technology to address many of the challenges presented by urbanisation – a process which was begun here in the UK, and arguably in cities like Greater Manchester, 200 years ago at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

A smart city is a designation given to a city that incorporates information and communications technology to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs. The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology.

For example, in Jinan, all lampposts are now solar charged; more than that, they each incorporate traffic cameras, CCTV, public wifi, air quality monitoring equipment and electric car charging points. A great way of utilising street furniture. But it also then allows that infrastructure to be used to manage local services efficiently.

Using the traffic cameras, for example, city planners can assess where there is traffic congestion developing, or where air quality is deteriorating. The road signs, all being LCD display, can then quickly be changed to immediately divert traffic flows along other alternative routes – easing congestion and managing air quality at the same time.

This is just one of many examples we were shown, and yet we seem miles behind in grasping the opportunities that ‘Smart Cities’ around the globe are now embracing. If places like Greater Manchester (and indeed Tameside within it) are to be at the forefront of the next big industrial revolution – the green industrial revolution – then we need to get smarter about smart cities. I’ve seen the future. Now let it happen here!

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