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UC meets Cllr. Stuart Tranter: A smart-city vision for Medway

Cllr Stuart Tranter speaks to #urbancontrol about his vision for #Medway and his views on the unique role that Local Authorities must play in the growth of smart cities across the UK.

In order to truly take advantage of Smart City technology, it’s my view that it is the responsibility of the Local Authority to have a clear vision for their borough, town or city. We don’t need to have all the answers – indeed it is imperative that we don’t pretend to, and instead we must be consulting with the experts on how we achieve our ambitions. But it is for us, the local government, to ensure that we have a clear vision for the future.

This vision must stem from an understanding of the changes that are going on in the wider environment. We need to be ahead of the curve, doing our very best to see how we can encourage investment and regeneration.

“We must have a clear vision for the future of our towns and cities”

For example, we should be envisaging how people will be traveling in the future. It is a known fact that we need to move away from using fossil fuels – so what effect will that have on future transport infrastructure? Will we still want people to use public transport or will the emphasis shift to something else?

In Medway, we now benefit from the high-speed rail link to London, just 40 minutes away. If we want to encourage people to use it, what are the smart technologies that are going to make that easier for them? For example, when I get off at the station, will I know what’s going on in town right now and how to get there? What will make my life easier?

We know that conventional shopping in town centres will decrease, retail will tend to merge with leisure activities and yet city populations will grow. How will all this shape the way we use and interact with our town centres? We are used to the concept of a smart phone; it is only natural entire cities will follow.

These are the kinds of questions we should be thinking about at a macro level as we plan for a smarter future.

But our vision must also consider how we leverage the strengths of our individual boroughs.

Medway is a unique conurbation, made up of towns that have distinctly different strengths… and challenges. The best way I can describe it is, it’s a bit like my house. Each room has a different use. They all need to be functional and fit for purpose and, of course, I want all of them to be pleasant places to be.

“Our vision must consider how we leverage the strengths of our individual boroughs.”

I could liken Rochester to my kitchen and dining area – the heart of the house where people meet to share good food, relax and enjoy their surroundings. Strood is a place of working – like my office, it needs to be a comfortable place to be, but has a very specific function. I believe the future of Gillingham could be as a place of sport and recreation – it has huge fields, sports facilities and riverside leisure areas …and it is home to Gillingham Football Club.

But like my house needs a central heating system, Medway needs an overarching Smart City strategy. It should be centrally managed and designed to leverage the strengths of each town in order to improve the lives of those who live there.

And that means understanding the kind of people we are attracting. In Medway, one of our key objectives is to be known as a place of learning. We have four very good universities here already. But we want to become a primary destination for students and put ourselves on the map as an area of academic and creative excellence. And when their education is complete we want them to be employed here, or set up business here.

“Like the separate rooms of my house need a central heating system, Medway needs an overarching Smart City strategy.”

So the sort of questions we must be asking ourselves are; how can we use smart city technology to attract more students and connect them with Medway? How can we enhance the lives of those 10,000+ students already here? How do we make the connection between local employers and the students so that we keep them in Medway?

These are the challenges we need to be putting to the Smart City experts. But we need to know the questions, before we can go looking for answers.

Ultimately, I believe that at the heart of a truly Smart City is a clear understanding of the relationship between the user and the city. We must be continuously analysing that connection – which will be different for every borough. What I do know now though, is that the benefits Smart City technology brings, need to be relevant to my life and to my business as a citizen living and working in Medway. I’m excited about Smart City technology, and the future of Medway.

Councillor Stuart Tranter represents the ward of Rochester West and is also the Mayor of Medway. He has a strong background in business strategy and marketing.

Having started out as a Telephone Engineer at BT he moved up through the company to eventually assume the role of Head of Service Marketing. In 1994, he set up his own marketing agency and for the past 22 years he has run a successful portfolio of businesses spanning a variety of industries.

Stuart has lived in Medway all of his life.

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