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BGS collaborates on new £1 million EPSRC-funded digital research project to help make urban growth more sustainable

Novel research to develop a digital service for future water management and support efforts to make urban growth more sustainable.

28/06/2021 By BGS Press
People on the steps at Regent's Canal, Granary Square, King's Cross, London. Source: VVShots/iStock 2020.
People on the steps at Regent's Canal, Granary Square, King's Cross, London. Source: VVShots/iStock 2020.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) will conduct novel research to collaboratively develop an innovative digital service for future water management that will support efforts to make urban growth more sustainable.

The way in which the built environment can work with the natural environment to avoid degrading it is an important challenge for a range of stakeholders — not only engineers and geologists, but also planners, land owners, local governments and policymakers.

VENTURA is a collaborative research project between Imperial College London (ICL), University College London (UCL) and BGS. Led by Dr Ana Mijic, who is co-director of the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation at ICL, the VENTURA team will help end users explore housing and water system planning options using new virtual and digital engagement methods. The project will investigate how models of the natural and built environments can be applied to improve water management decisions in the context of local urban planning.

VENTURA includes the creation of a novel, web-based virtual decision room (VDR) and digital tools for project stakeholders and end users to explore the impact of different planning and decision scenarios. The VDR will be co-created with local government, the local community, regulators and water utility companies to collaboratively plan and evaluate the environmental sustainability of urban growth planning scenarios using water consumption and waste-water treatment and re-use.

This will be achieved by integrating two state-of-the-art digital tools: a ground risk calculator (GRISC) and a whole-water system model (CityWat). The project team will work together with stakeholders and end users to properly define the questions and potential solutions for a range of housing and water system planning scenarios.

VENTURA is one of ten projects receiving funding to find sustainable digital solutions to pressing sustainability issues through the EPSRC Sustainable Digital Society call.

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‘We are very excited about the VENTURA project. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way local planning authorities use digital information to support their decisions and engage with key stakeholders. We hope that the novel version of our state-of-the-art CityWat model, embedded within an interactive platform, will provide a proof-of-concept for a digital twin of integrated land-water planning system.’

Dr Ana Mijic, principal investigator.

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‘Geologists have a crucial role to play in supporting the UK’s commitment to creating a sustainable built environment that supports and protects our natural environment to achieve our vision of sustainable urban development through collaborative working.

‘This is a truly collaborative project in which we will explore innovative ways of working together with the VENTURA team to transform the availability and use of digital tools in planning, decision making and sustainable water management.

‘The BGS will be designing digital solutions that put people at the heart of the decision-making process, making sure that the key evidence is understood, used and communicated effectively.’

Darren Beriro, geoscientist and BGS lead

The VDR will be tested by applying it to case studies in Greater Manchester and the London Borough of Enfield. This will enable end users to transform their ability to explore different development options that align to their strategic planning and water management priorities.

VENTURA will directly support the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in their pioneering work to place them at the heart of housing delivery and overcoming wider issues such as flood risk, brownfield land remediation, environmental degradation and wider resilience to climate change in the north of England. It will also support Enfield Council in their transition to a digital planning system that will enable consideration of infrastructure needs, investment opportunities and future housing.

These will be underpinned by engaging with local communities and local plans, which currently do not include water demand and water quality evaluation because of a lack of accessible and available evidence. Both case studies will enable community groups to contribute more effectively to these plans through collaboration with partner local organisations such as Thames21 and The Mersey Rivers Trust.

VENTURA directly addresses the current UK Government’s high-profile strategic initiatives, including the Planning for the future White Paper and the National Digital Twin Programme. It will help to address reducing the length of time taken to produce and review evidence for local plans and development decisions. This should support overall improvements to environmental quality and community engagement in decision making.

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