ADEPT awards celebrate collaborative and innovative projects

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) has recognised the achievement of members and partners across the country at its annual President’s Awards. The ceremony was part of ADEPT’s Spring Conference and was held in person for the first time in three years following the Covid-19 pandemic. The awards marked the end of Paula Hewitt’s presidency of the Association.

The awards were divided into three categories: 1) Delivering Clean Growth 2) Digital Innovation and Technology and 3) Shaping Places for People.

The Delivering Clean Growth category, sponsored by Jacobs, was won by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) for its driverless shuttlebus initiative. The future of mobility – clean, accessible, and affordable saw the council, in partnership with Transport for West Midlands, undertake a range of trials in the vicinity of the planned HS2 interchange to substitute car use with self-driving shuttles. The trials have provided an evidence base for the commercial viability of replacing carbon-intensive, single-occupancy vehicles with new forms of future-proofed clean mobility. The judges said that not only did it address all the criteria but that it was also ‘applicable to others and provides opportunities for greater learning’.

Two projects were highly commended in this category. Norfolk County Council’s TIGER (Tidal Stream Industry Energiser) project involved cross-border partnerships developing new technologies, testing them at multiple locations around the Channel region, and using the learning to make a stronger, cost-effective case for tidal energy. Somerset County Council’s Somerset Innovation Centres – Driving Clean Growth initiative is delivering clean growth through innovation via a network of innovation centres and a wrap-around support service for Somerset’s key growth sectors. The project will help to future-proof growth and jobs in Somerset, as well as deliver net-zero ambitions.

Milton Keynes Council was the winner of the Digital Innovation and Technology category, which was sponsored by Ringway. MK Connect, a partnership with TransitTech company, Via, saw the development of the first demand responsive bus service in the UK. It uses innovative technology to direct passengers, by phone or app, to either a timetabled route or a journey with a demand responsive bus service. The project has increased flexibility, equity, and sustainability in transport across the Borough. The judges said that it was an ‘interesting project’ and that they ‘particularly liked the link to public bus services’.

Highly commended in this category were projects by Hertfordshire County Council and Nottinghamshire County Council. Hertfordshire’s The Virtual Operations Hub is a GIS viewer that brings together data on a range of issues such as defects, traffic flow and weather to help officers effectively and efficiently plan works. With all the information in one place, the system can also be used to answer questions from the public without having to go to multiple sources. Nottinghamshire’s Pioneering 5G in Sherwood Forest created a 5G ecosystem to boost tourism, as well as protect the forest environment. The project ranged from using augmented reality to bring the forest’s history to life, to deploying the UK’s first robot rangers to collect live data on people, animals and trees.

Shaping Places for People, sponsored by WSP, was won by Surrey County Council for its Surrey Heartlands Green Social Prescribing ‘Test and Learn’ Programme. The innovative partnership explored how green social prescribing could help those hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. This included those living in deprived areas, as well as people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and from BAME communities. A new Green Health and Wellbeing Network brought partners together to share learning and opportunities, and a nature connection fund was set up for activities that support mental and physical health. The judges said that it was ‘refreshing to see the links to health’ and that it demonstrated ‘good collaboration’.

Norfolk County Council and South Gloucestershire Council were highly commended in this category. Norfolk’s Increase VS is a cross-border project that helps social housing residents set up micro businesses or return to employment. The project involved working closely with housing associations in 38 neighbourhoods in England and France, to deliver one-to-one training to residents. South Gloucestershire’s Local Nature Action Plan partnership: Empowering Town and Parish Councils to tackle the Nature and Climate Emergency provided support and guidance for town and parish councils to deliver their own Local Nature Action Plans, empowering them to increase tree planting, improve grounds maintenance, restore, and create ponds, link up work on neighbouring green spaces, and share best practice.

Outgoing ADEPT President, Paula Hewitt, said: “We were incredibly impressed by the breadth and quality of the submissions and I would like to commend everybody who entered. It was a real pleasure to be able to once again celebrate our winners in person – many congratulations to them all.

“The last two years have thrown unprecedented challenges our way but these awards demonstrate how local authorities have continued to use innovation and collaboration to find new ways of supporting their communities.”

ADEPT is the voice of strategic place directors from county, combined and unitary authorities across England with responsibility for the key place based services, including transport, environment, planning, economic development, housing and waste.