By 2050, the United Kingdom population is projected to approach 80 million (Office of National Statistics, 2009), the overwhelming majority of which are anticipated to continue to live in cities. Nationally, urban areas are likely to become more densely populated, and be surrounded by other urban areas as well, with their expanding populations and increasing resource demands. The average ‘ecological footprint’ (that is the area of land needed to supply the goods and services used) of a UK citizen is 5-10 ha but there are only 1.9 ha of productive land per person in the world (Rees, 2003), and this will shrink by more than 25% in the next 40 years as the global population rises to over 9 billion. Interactions within cities, across urban areas and with surrounding cities, towns and ‘rural’ areas will place new and different demands on infrastructure, whether transport, dwellings, energy, waste collection or ecosystem services.

Solar panels low res RH border  Crucially, research to date under earlier Sustainable Urban Environment (SUE) programmes was generally based on single model cities, and there is an urgent need now to develop effective tools and models that allow up-scaling to regional scale and beyond recognising that local scale solutions have broader impacts, and thus to increase the efficiency of resource utilisation and urban sustainability at this larger scale.

The growth in urban populations coincides with an unprecedented requirement for an 80 percent cut in the UK greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2050 (DECC, 2009) alongside the targets set by the EU Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC). This puts energy demand reduction and low-carbon energy supply at the forefront of managing future urban environments. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set the, now legally binding, carbon budgets for the first three quinquennial periods - covering the period up to 2022 (TSO, 2008) and produced its first report on progress against these budgets (CCC, 2009). Reductions in the use of centrally supplied energy by buildings (currently 26% of UK emissions) and less polluting transport systems (currently 27% of UK emissions) are key planks of the CCC carbon reduction strategy.

Wheelie bins2 picture  Major emissions cuts are also required from the food sector, which contributes 22% of greenhouse gas emissions from UK economic activity, a third of which is attributable to household consumption (Defra, 2010). New buildings will be much more efficient and existing dwellings are to have much lower energy demand and more efficient heating systems. Low carbon district and building integrated low-carbon energy generation, including energy from household solid and liquid waste, will proliferate, and increased carbon efficiency and local production is required in the food sector. However, the emissions reductions to be made by each region of the country are not described and neither is the emissions trajectory or reduction strategy beyond 2022. Radical changes are also required in the food sector. Halving household food waste to less than 4.2 m tonnes nationally would be equivalent to taking 1 in 8 cars off the road in terms of CO2 emissions avoided (Defra, 2010). Regional policies that increase local food production can simultaneously increase food security, and reduce both emissions and transport infrastructure costs. Own-grown fruit and vegetables can additionally help to alleviate the rising public health crises caused by poor diets and lack of exercise (Leake et al., 2009).

Allotment3 low res RH border  The UK Government has produced a definition of sustainable communities that emphasises a balance between economic growth, environmental quality and societal needs (Defra, 2010). Reconciling the conflicts that will arise between economic growth, environmental justice and social inclusion will require innovation in future planning. At the core of these issues lies the requirement for urban environments to become more sustainable by minimising wastage, better using sustainable resources, optimising energy and transport infrastructures and managing demand. Delivering services to meet both demands and expectations of householders whilst minimising their impacts, on a regional scale, presents the grand challenge to create SElf Conserving Urban Environments - SECURE futures indeed. SECURE embarks on a scientific approach to gaining basic understanding of the complex relationships between future demands (Urbanisation), resources (Ecosystem Services) and supply (Building and Energy), to enable greater conservation and efficiency of resource utilisation through integrated modelling from the city-to-regional scales in order achieve greater sustainability for 2050. A central tenet of this project is that increasing efficiency of resource utilization locally in cities will reduce demand on transport infrastructures and transport-energy throughout a wider region, and urbanization scenarios need to consider the potential impacts and optimal solutions at these larger scales.

Car fuel picture  Current urban planning, transport, housing and greenspace management policies are disaggregated and localized in local authorities and city councils, with limited strategic planning at regional and national scales. We have learned much from earlier SUE research, which generally was on a single-city basis, but there is now a need to develop urban logistics models that scale beyond individual cities to larger regions, and ultimately, to national scale - for cities in 2050 and beyond. This will produce a set of options for development planning for which sensitivities and controls are known, allowing informed strategic planning to guide the growth of existing urban areas, in response to policy drivers and stakeholders ‘priorities’ and to achieve optimal resource use efficiency and urban sustainability at regional scales.


CCC (2009) Meeting Carbon Budgets – the Need for a Step Change, Committee on Climate Change, 35 pp, October 2009.

Code for Sustainable Homes (2006). Department for Communities and Local Government

DECC (2009) Heat and Energy Saving Strategy: Consultations, Feb 2009.

Defra (2010) Food 2030 Strategy Report.

Leake JR, Adam-Bradford A, Rigby JE. (2009). Environmental Health 8: S6doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-S1-S6Leake JR

Office for National Statistics (2009). National Population Projections.

Rees WE. (2003).. Nature 421: 898.

TSO (2008) Building a low-carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change. 511pp, December 2008.