ADEPT President Paula Hewitt looks back at the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme

by | Mar 22, 2022 | Local Roads, News, Policy

Paula Hewitt, President, ADEPT

I think it’s fair to say that the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme has at times been a wild ride.

What began as a desktop review into the digital transformation of local roads, became a wide-ranging series of trials that battled through complex procurement challenges, a global pandemic and consequent supply chain difficulties, and the redesign and reassessment of technologies, to become a successful showcase for how to implement innovation across local highways. And many of the tested technologies will make a contribution to reaching net zero!

The £22.9million Department for Transport funded two year programme, initiated and designed by ADEPT, was a collaboration of private and public sector, national and global companies, academia and SMEs all working together across eight different Live Labs. Led by a local authority, each Live Lab set up and implemented a number of trials across data, communications, materials, energy and mobility.

Trials have included:

  • Harvesting kinetic energy from pavements to power digital screens and provide public charging points
  • Using thermal energy to de-ice carparks plus light and heat workshops
  • Using solar surfacing on roads to power buildings
  • Trialling using sensors, VivaCity cameras on waste lorries and drones to assess highways and local roads’ maintenance needs
  • Creating composite recycled lighting columns with sensors
  • Examining last mile mobility
  • Testing the environmental sustainability and quality of using waste plastics in roads
  • Creating data analytics to support air quality management areas and public health
  • Managing congestion using data and video analytics to create personalised travel planning through understanding travel behaviour

The results have far surpassed initial expectations, with key outcomes for the programme also encompassing behavioural change, cross-authority collaboration and a re-examination of public sector approaches to risk and innovation. Central to the programme has also been commercialisation, and the final outputs will include a series of business cases from each Live Lab. These will detail the technical, commercial and supporting data that will enable other local authorities and the wider sector to assess the suitability of an innovation for its own geography and needs.

Many of the lead authorities are taking their work beyond the lifetime of their Live Lab, creating internal cross-sector Innovation and Technology Boards and attracting additional funding and resource opportunities. Others are working with councils outside the programme, for example to discuss how ‘living walls’ can be incorporated into local bus strategies to improve localised air quality. There has even been crossover to other sectors, with two Live Labs exploring how their technology could be used to support adult social care.

Of course, the programme has not been without its own challenges, and if we are successful in moving forward with Live Labs 2, there is much we can build on and incorporate into a new programme.

In the early days, the interpretation of procurement rules differed widely across local authorities, to the extent that some lost the first six months of the two year programme trying to resolve issues. Fast innovation projects cannot bear that sort of delay and we will need to design a new flexible approach that can work through contractual restraints at pace. Although most Live labs were able to adapt to setbacks, for projects that were hugely ambitious and complex in scope, some problems proved difficult to overcome, also resulting in delays.

This type of evaluation and shared learning is all part of the Live Labs ethos. We set out to capture everything – the successes, the challenges, outcomes and failures – and make it all publicly available. We have published white papers, reports, articles and blogs as well as taken part in webinars, conferences and delivered two Live Lab Expos. I would also encourage you to watch the Women in Transport video, where our four female project leads discuss their careers and what it takes to be a female leader in the highways sector with ADEPT CEO, Hannah Bartram. It’s both illuminating and inspiring!

I’d like to thank our lead authorities – Buckinghamshire Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cumbria County Council, Kent County Council, Reading Borough Council, Staffordshire County Council, Suffolk County Council and Transport for West Midlands – for their tenacity, humour and creativity, exactly the approach you need when a global pandemic gets in the way of the best laid plans!

Suffolk County Council is setting up a platform where the business cases will be freely available, and you will be able to find details for this when its ready, and much more, on the ADEPT website:


More information on the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme can be found here:

The Women in Transport video is available to view here:

About the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs programme

The ADEPT SMART Places Programme is a five-year project examining and developing innovation to enable the adoption of innovative and digital technology across the local highway network. The initial research report ‘Digital Innovation: The route to the highways systems of the future’ was published in October 2017. In January 2019, ADEPT secured £22.9 million funding from the Department for Transport for Phase 3 of the programme, which sees the development of eight individual Live Labs projects led by local authorities across England with university and private sector partners. The Live Labs are piloting innovation across SMART communications, transport, highways maintenance, energy, materials and mobility. The ADEPT SMART Places programme has been developed with partners: SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, 02, Ringway and WSP.


The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) represents local authority county, unitary and metropolitan Place Directors. Operating at the strategic tier of local government, members are responsible for delivering public services that primarily relate to the physical environment and the economy, but which have a significant impact on all aspects of the nation’s well-being. ADEPT represents members’ interests by proactively engaging central Government on emerging policy and issues, promoting initiatives aimed at influencing Government policy and through the development of best practices and responding to European and UK Government initiatives and consultations. Out wider membership includes Local Enterprise Partnerships, Combined Authorities, Sub-national Transport Bodies and Corporate Partners.


ADEPT is an official partner of Highways UK, for more on ADEPT visit:

Paula Hewitt, this year’s President of ADEPT, will be speaking at Highways UK 2022 in the Local Authority Hub at the NEC in Birmingham on 2-3 November.