Clean, green and a healthy place to live, Peterborough’s environmental credentials have made it one of four ‘Environment Cities’ in the UK. The city now plans to become the UK’s Environment Capital and a unique partnership project is playing a crucial part in achieving that ambition.

Home to approximately 165,000 people, the East Anglian city is growing rapidly. An ambitious 20-year plan is also underway to provide a further 20,000 jobs and 25,000 new houses to accommodate an expected 40,000 more residents by 2021.

This pace of change means global environmental challenges such as reducing use of natural resources, maintaining wildlife habitats, creating a sustainable environment and limiting waste, are vital to Peterborough on a local level, as this growing city works to become the UK’s environment capital.

Commissioned by Peterborough City Council and Opportunity Peterborough, Royal HaskoningDHV has collaborated with IBM and Green Ventures to develop an innovative approach that helps cities maximise current and future sustainability. The Peterborough Model gives us a place to share and understand the information needed to make faster and better decisions.

Trevor Gibson, Director of Environment Capital, Peterborough City Council, said: “Cities are complex places. Making positive change is hard and often slow. Visualising a problem makes it easier to understand, and more pressing to fix. Most importantly, if data is shared, collaboration becomes easier, which in turn speeds the pace of change.”

Development of the concept

Royal HaskoningDHV, IBM and Green Ventures jointly developed the project idea, initially working in free association to develop the project concept. Together the team has huge experience, global expertise and technical understanding of the factors affecting environmental sustainability.

The ultimate aim of the project is to create a three-dimensional online resource that will provide a complete picture of Peterborough’s environmental performance. The first two phases of the project studied data on energy, water, transport, waste and environmental business based in the city.

The project uses existing sets of environmental data produced by various organisations. Combining this information delivers a complete picture of Peterborough’s environmental performance avoiding the high cost of new specialist studies. It also results in a stronger message that will reach more people than if a single sector study had been carried out.

The interactive three-dimensional format can display information for the city as a whole, or zoom in on particular streets or individual buildings to give dynamic indicators of environmental performance. The resource gives a basis for strategic discussions far beyond figures presented in tables, pie charts or as average percentages.

Project delivery

Royal HaskoningDHV’s links with organisations in the water, environment, energy, transport and waste sectors in the vicinity, played a key role in encouraging companies involved to work closely together. Coordinated by environmental consultancy Green Ventures, this collaborative process was essential for data gathering, review of extensive data records and reports. It also helped determine current and future issues that might affect Peterborough’s ability to grow sustainably. The information received from local organisations was initially used to formulate the base data behind the platform.

The next steps were to develop processes to manipulate and transform the data into a dynamic, visual format. IBM’s role in the project was to lead the technical development behind the data visualisations and to design the web-platform. Principal Consultant for Royal HaskoningDHV, Amy Savage, said: “All organisations worked closely together to develop the idea and bring the concepts within the data to life. Interactive, colourful and animated, the online platform displays three-dimensional interpretations of data on an open-source web-based map to create a visual understanding of Peterborough’s current performance and future environmental scenarios.

“Professional organisations, such as government agencies and utility companies, will be able to use the resource to easily identify areas of the city that need investment. In addition, members of the public can access the information and use it to improve their environment at a local level.”

Using the model to achieve positive change

Local utility suppliers, city council departments and environmental organisations will be able to use the platform to model current challenges envision future scenarios and plan environmental quality of life on a strategic level. New information can be added easily. When integrated with data from other organisations, it will encourage a collaborative approach to accelerate the pace of change.