ARCC assembly – Urban areas as systems: adapting for the future

10 & 11 June, Austin Court, Birmingham

Supporting policy and practice

Exploring the contributions of research to policy and practice initiatives, these presentations examine the roles of researchers and stakeholders in capturing, translating and mobilising knowledge and evidence.

See our blog for more on the value of evidence in policy and practice.

Research supporting action

Session 1a: Powering the cities

The energy sector – generation, transmission and distribution – is evolving to maintain security of supply, to meet carbon reduction targets and to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate. This session explored adaptation options assessments and supply resilience.

Identified research & knowledge gaps

Reducing demand to reduce carbon emissions and improve affordability for consumers:

  • How much can energy consumption be reduced by behavioural change? Which social preferences (appliance use) and societal changes (e.g., 24-hour living, aging population) will affect energy demand? How much can smart meters influence demand?
  • How much will overnight/evening demand increase due to heat pumps/electric cars?
  • Can demand side management (e.g. tariffs) be used in a socially just way to reduce energy demand?
  • What are the health issues associated with changing energy consumption?
  • What are the cost/benefits of retrofitting existing housing stock? How transferable are housing stock profiles/models between regions in the UK for energy demand modelling?
  • How much are increasing environmental regulations E.g. higher bathing water standards driving ever higher electricity use by water companies (for treatment)?

Ensuring security of energy supply in the face of social change, climate variability and climate change and new generating technologies:

  • Are suppliers/markets sufficiently well incentivised to reduce demand for energy and water?
  • What roles do energy storage systems, renewables (e.g. PV, wind), and district-level heating have to play in ensuring supply, especially with flatter demand curves?
  • What are the effects of decentralisation on resilience?
  • Need to understand the potential impact of climate variability and climate change including flooding, coastal erosion, vegetation growth/increased storm damage.

What infrastructure planning and governance systems are required to get buy-in for the city scale changes that are needed?

  • There are opportunities for researchers, policy-maker and practitioners to work together on innovative approaches e.g., scenario building, local/regional supply, systems approaches
  • More research needed in to land-use change and sectoral development
  • A future infrastructure forecasting capability needs to be developed
  • What are the decision lead times in the energy distribution sector? When do we need to make investment decisions?
  • What is the role for new technologies including smart grids?
  • The political process has tended to drive shorter term policy. Is longer term coordinated planning possible?

Knowledge exchange and data sharing:

  • Need to monitor research interactions with policy makers/infrastructure operators, and research outcomes
  • Greater support needed for KE organisations, translational projects and boundary organisations (outside universities) to increase the impact of research on policy, commercial practice and public behaviour
  • Could university research departments and stakeholder R&D groups work more closely together?
  • To what data/metadata should everyone have access to facilitate research, analysis, discussion? How to share other data between appropriate users?

Session 1b: Adapting urban lives

It is important to consider the human and social factors that contribute to successful adaptation. This session examined social and behavioural work from within the ARCC network and from further afield.

Our blog article looks at what works and what doesn’t in engaging residents in adaptation measures.

Session 2a: Smart adapting cities

with Core Cities adaptation sub-group

This session looked at the city as a system within which buildings operate rather than the performance of individual buildings. Presentations examined interactions and interdependencies between buildings and the urban environment as well as the effect of human element.

Joint working between local government and researchers is discussed on our blog, as budgets are limited and co-creation produces unexpected benefits.

Identified research & knowledge gaps

We need a better understanding of the interactions with economic change and population growth, and the implications for sustainable development at a city level.

Help is needed to develop standard ways of adapting existing evaluation/appraisal techniques for infrastructure and building projects to account for climate change, e.g. provide case studies, examples.

Aim to make research transferable with evidence and outcomes developed in conjunction with local/city authorities and provided in a form that can be linked to business models. Work with local authorities and groups such as Core Cities to better understand what tools and data are needed.

Session 2b: Transport sustainability and resilience

This session focused on promoting and strengthening resilient local transport services when coping with climate change and an increase in extreme weather events. Presentations and discussions explored transport system design and planning, and system operation and maintenance.

Good communication with travellers can make an extreme weather situation tolerable, as long as the public are paying attention, Fiona Hewer discovers.

Identified research & knowledge gaps

Understanding of extreme weather:

  • Insufficient detailed data of the weather associated with actual disruptions
  • Effect of extreme weather on personal transport choices
  • Weather thresholds – both for system failures and personal mode switching, including high temperatures
  • Persistence of extreme weather conditions
  • Role of social media as an analysis tool.

Longer term climate change:

  • Not clear what assumptions are being made about future transport systems for the 2060s, 2080s etc.
  • More long term transport modelling required
  • Long term effect of Climate change on air quality
  • Role of street trees in ameliorating extreme rainfall and addressing air quality issues.


  • Impact analysis of recent events, and of the potential costs of future extremes/impacts
  • Costs & benefits of co-funded infrastructure (cost apportionment)

Policy & practice gaps

Gaps between the research and policy & practice communities, or perceived gaps between different sections of the policy & practice community were identified. Other issues are listed where more or better quality action is required.

  • Need for earlier engagement between researchers and users
  • Better communications of research findings into the policy & practice community
  • More explicit links between research and application
  • Need for more transparent selection of tools – how do practitioners decide which tools to use?
  • Better coordination between scales of responsibility and governance when considering transport hubs and interconnections between different systems.

Session 3a: Infrastructure interdependencies

with EA’s Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum

See the Infrastructure dialogue pages for presentations from this session.

Session 3b: Buildings within cities

with CIBSE

Adapting cities focused on robust and reliable infrastructure systems, opportunities for smart cities, coping with extreme events and the roles of buildings, neighbourhood and communities.

In a new blog post, Anastasia Mylona examines the importance of retrofitting buildings in preparing cities for the future climate.

Identified research & knowledge gaps

Better understanding of design processes, solutions and data availability:

  • Wider availability of data for design and planning, e.g. urban climate data
  • How can we measure the effectiveness of existing solutions
  • How can we learn from good examples and other countries
  • How the participation of industry and policy can be guaranteed for the real life impact of research
  • How can green standards be implemented in all designs?

Considering the human dimension of the design of urban environments:

  • How do people understand and use their buildings
  • What are the aspects that influence and change occupant behaviour
  • How do people change their circumstances to adapt their comfort levels and how can this be integrated in the operation of buildings
  • How can local authorities get involved in a practical way recognising the need to protect the most vulnerable

Session 4a: Understanding flood risk

with the Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network

The focus of this session was the response to clusters of extreme events, exploring the benefits of blue-green infrastructure and delivering long-term flood preparedness to protect people and property.

Phil Sivell looks at the case for Blue-Green infrastructure in urban areas.

Research & knowledge gaps

Archaeological sites and heritage buildings need:

  • An inventory of sites at risk from overtopping of flood defences and extreme weather events
  • Greater understanding of the specialist methods to preserve archaeological and heritage buildings at risk from flooding and extreme weather.

We need research into public thresholds to flood risk.

Work on how to adapt existing infrastructure to accommodate sustainability features is required, e.g. rainwater harvesting and/or sustainable drainage.

Policy & practice gaps

Comments focused on gaps between the research and policy & practice communities, or issues that do not appear to be adequately addressed. General comments about the water/flooding sector are included here.

  • Greater practical application of research outputs
  • Better communication about the current level of natural variability in the UK’s weather
  • Short time frame of water planning review – 5 year periods – and short term political cycles act as a barrier to the long term planning that is required
  • Lack of focus on demand–side management
  • Perception that there is a lack of engagement and/or support with the SME sector who are the largest percentage of UK business and particularly vulnerable to short term shocks
  • Not clear that there is sufficient people & skills capacity to address the wide range of issues involved; including land use planning, flood risk assessment, sustainable drainage, etc.

Session 4b: Overheating and indoor air quality in the urban environment

Indoor environments are affected by the outdoor urban microclimate/environment – this session examined solutions to tackle overheating and indoor air quality at building, neighbourhood and city level.

Our blog examines whether the focus on winter energy saving is creating summer discomfort in our urban areas.

Arup’s latest report, Reducing urban heat risk, has developed approaches and responses to address overheating in cities.

Identified research & knowledge gaps

Key factors towards addressing overheating:

  • Government to recognise overheating as a real risk and assign a clear responsibility to a department
  • Identify and promote solutions that work well with no energy penalties, e.g. external shutters
  • Protecting existing urban features that provide cooling effect (green and blue infrastructure)
  • Put an economic value to health and well-being