Smart cities
Smart cities

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Smart cities

3.2 Satellite data

The Satellite Applications Catapult [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , a partner in MK:Smart, is working with Milton Keynes Council using satellite data to help optimise town planning and infrastructure development.

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Since Milton Keynes was designated as a new town in 1967, there's about 85,000 houses being built in Milton Keynes. Over the last 10 years, we've had 1,500 completions per year in Milton Keynes, and we've taken this land. We've got 500 hectares for roads, open space, and residential developments.
As a fast-growing city in particular, we've got the challenge of providing infrastructure and new services for fast-growing communities. So we've got to provide new schools, new roads, new services. And those bills total into the hundreds of millions over the next few years. So anything we can do to make that growth and bring that efficient and bring those costs down is something we're very interested in. As we grow, we're obviously under increasing pressure on our services and infrastructure from the growing population, so we've got more traffic, for example, on the roads every day.
One of the main functions of my team is pollution control. And one of the main aspects of that is air pollution. The main air pollutants that we're interested in are particulates, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzene, an odd substance called 1, 3-Butadiene, and lead. The young and the old in general are the most vulnerable to pollution, pregnant mothers in addition. In terms of air pollution, what we would like to see is the satellite data enabling us to monitor air pollution and how it drops as you go away from our major routes. Satellite imagery, we believe, can really help us with land use planning.
Due to growth in this city, we have the land allocated for 23,000 houses, which will take us up to 2026, and that's an average of about 1750 homes to be built every year from now. It's vitally important that any data supplied by the satellite industry is rectified to British National grid. Every planning authority in the country use mapping systems, which based on ordinance survey MasterMap. And all our data assets are captured to that. So it's important that if we get maps from space that we have that rectified so we can see them with an overlay on data on them. If we had satellite imagery, say once a quarter, then we could find that most site have been developing.
And that could cut our site visits down by 80% so we'd only have to visit 20% therefore saving time of officers going out and the cost of travel.
Satellite imagery can really help us with an environmental monitoring too. We're a city with 22 million trees, so looking at our vegetation cover and any impacts on that or changes in that is really important.
We've got a lot of trees and not much of a resource to get round all of them in time.
Primarily we're looking at pests and diseases and trees that are under stress. So perhaps large areas where trees have got a disease that's moving through them that perhaps could be picked up from space by either chlorophyll fluorescence or thermal imagery is another possibility that we're exploring. Being able to use space services to actually see those trees as they die back and see how it spreads would be useful from an academic point of view but also useful from a management point of view in terms of, again, targeting resources to fell the trees in certain areas or monitor trees if they're worthy of retaining.
So it is a national issue and it does look as though it's getting worse.
We need to know where the areas of risks are. We need, of course, to monitor recent developments and check where they are in relation to areas which have the potential to flood. One of the big things that satellite data can do is to monitor streams, rivers, and things like sudden blockages, trees falling, malicious acts such as fly tipping into streams, which can cause a flooding issue.
Like all cities, we need really good high quality data that helps us understand just how we're managing and how things are changing. So satellite imagery data information is going to be a really important part of that mix.
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As a fast-growing city with big expansion plans over the next few years, Milton Keynes must pursue every opportunity to keep down costs and manage the challenges of an expanding community. Satellite imagery is being used here to monitor and forecast pollution, to build predictive models of pollution dispersal, to monitor flooding and plan for extreme weather. With many parks, new planting schemes and already 22 million existing trees to care for, there are also hopes that space services can be deployed in the detection of tree diseases – a practical application of how big data can benefit smart city decision making.


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