Delegates at MIPIM


Prompted by the breadth, depth and pace of scientific and technological change, the Greater Thames Valley is gearing up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

This brave new era is set to irrevocably alter the global economic landscape as we know it, disrupting well-established industries and markets. But it also heralds great opportunities for regions with the right knowledge assets and capabilities.  Across the Greater Thames Valley, which comprises six Local Enterprise Partnerships: Thames Valley Berkshire, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley, Enterprise M3, Oxfordshire, Solent, and Swindon & Wiltshire, the region is gearing up to ensure it makes the most of this new age.

With unmanned automated vehicles set to be tested in Buckinghamshire Thames Valley, IoT (Internet of Things) enabled Smart Cities being created in Thames Valley Berkshire, 5G being pioneered across Enterprise M3 and New Energy Vehicle technology being refined in Swindon – it’s clear the future is with us.

As a region operating at the forefront of the UK’s digital and advanced manufacturing revolution, the Greater Thames Valley is in prime position to maximise the opportunities presented by 4IR. We’re incredibly excited by the potential we see in this new landscape and each region is taking key steps to ensure it is future proofed and ready to operate at the vanguard of 4IR.

The main areas of technological change driving this revolution include artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, IoT, connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs), 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and efficiency, and quantum computing.

Thames Valley Berkshire has the UK’s biggest cluster of digital businesses outside of London. One of the next-generation projects we are developing is a ‘Smart City’ in Reading, Bracknell and West Berkshire. This IoT based project will bring together state-of-the-art and emerging transport, environment, energy and assisted living technologies to demonstrate, at a large scale, how the challenges of the modern city can be met. 

The project will result in direct benefits to citizens (working and living in a smart environment), local councils and businesses (benefiting from being located in a ‘smart town’s cluster’). It will deliver a platform for business start-ups and create big data opportunities for younger generations to become involved in developing mobile and web services.

Meanwhile, in Enterprise M3, our colleagues are supporting a public/private sector partnership delivering a major £53 million project led by the University of Surrey. This project will progress the development of world-leading 5G mobile communication technologies, which could establish the UK as the primary place for business to invest in R&D for Mobile Communications and associated technologies in a few years.

This focus on connectivity, which is at the heart of the 4IR, is common across the GTV. Oxford is one of the UK’s top 10 creativity and innovation hotspots (NESTA). It has also advanced a number of innovative collaborations.

In September, findings from the Oxfordshire Transformative Technologies Alliance’s science and innovation audit (SIA) – jointly led by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership – said that the county could support the UK to become a ‘global leader’ through the areas of digital health, space-led data applications, autonomous vehicles and technologies underpinning quantum computing.

If fully-utilised, the SIA report suggests the technologies could be worth in the region of £180billion to the UK economy by 2030 – around six per cent of the global economy in these technologies.

Technological change under the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect the nature of travel and movement in the future. With significant investment in transport infrastructure planned for the period to 2030, Buckinghamshire aims to be an exemplar in the greater region for the design and utilisation of digital highway infrastructure with the shift to autonomous vehicles.

Buckinghamshire Thames Valley is working to ensure investments are future-proof to 2050 and is developing highly-innovative, future-focused prototypes to be applied to new highway assets and smart transport infrastructure in town centres.

The region is seeking to be the vanguard of this new technology and its growth vision is to work alongside national agencies to develop the transport technologies of the future – exploring experimental transport models. Its pilot transport schemes include projects looking at exploring automated pod transport, connected cars, and highly automated vehicles - utilising the private testing facilities at locations including Silverstone and on the public highway.

Swindon and Wiltshire LEP, meanwhile, is focused on maximising opportunities driven by the unique ICT infrastructure that has built up around Corsham where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the private sector have invested heavily in secure communications and data storage.

Corsham is now home to a growing cluster of digital companies as well as the most secure cloud data centre and electrical supply in the country.  As ‘big data’ and cyber security become even more important in the digital economy nationally and internationally, the economic potential of this infrastructure to create a leading digital economy cluster is evident.

Meanwhile, Swindon is building on its industrial heritage and strong automotive sector to lead advances in New Energy Vehicles, with companies like Johnson Matthey, Honda, Hyundai and Arla working together as the Hydrogen Hub. Swindon is the only town or city outside London with 2 Hydrogen Fuelling Stations.

The region’s advanced engineering and high value manufacturing will also be key areas to benefit from the advent of the 4IR, enabling increased efficiencies and ongoing focus on this sector.

The Solent is also a key 4IR player. Its universities have deep expertise in the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ aligned with the 4IR, including advanced materials and nanotechnology, robotics and autonomous systems and synthetic biology. While its combined R&D assets make the region a research superpower in terms of the marine and maritime sector.

As the maritime world moves towards autonomy, the Solent will lead the global drive for wide-scale adoption of autonomous operation. To meet this growing opportunity and develop Portsmouth and the Solent as an international centre for Autonomy, the Solent LEP has invested in partnership with industry. This will bring forward world-leading test-facilities at the UK’s first maritime autonomous systems testing service; including Air and Surface test vehicles, a Secure Maritime Communications Network, Mobile Control Centre and a range of Solent based test sites.

Alongside innovation investment in our internationally recognised marine and maritime sector, the LEP is working in partnership with Solent Universities to support those business clusters that will transform the future of our world.

The growth the 4IR will enable across the Greater Thames Valley will be driven by technical innovation, embracing the latest digital technologies to provide the conditions for smart new integrated and connected communities to thrive, complementing and reinvigorating our major towns to create dynamic locations where individuals and businesses will aspire to invest.

Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) partners representing Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Enterprise M3, Oxfordshire, Solent, and Swindon & Wiltshire were at MIPIMUK, the UK’s biggest property event, to promote the region and highlight its compelling, future-fit investment proposition

The LEPs attended MIPIM UK as part of a delegation, led by UK Property Forums, alongside Heathrow Airport, Basingstoke and Dean Borough Council, political and stakeholder engagement consultancy Development Communications, and property management software company Locale www.ukpropertyforums.com/mipim-uk-2017-greater-thames-valley-2

Tim Smith MBE is CEO of Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership