Blackpool could become world leader in ethically powered data - with help from Lancaster University

The Blackpool Innovation Catalyst team at the project symposium at Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre
The Blackpool Innovation Catalyst team at the project symposium at Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre

More than 100 stakeholders, including senior academics and international industry experts, came together for a major symposium to discuss how to make Blackpool a world-leader in ethically powered data.

The symposium was the culmination of a sixth-month project – the Blackpool Innovation Catalyst – to explore opportunities to create an innovative digital sector in the resort, built around a cluster of ethically powered data centres which operate on renewable energy and redistribute excess energy into social heat networks using groundbreaking green technologies. This can then be used for socially beneficial projects such as heating social housing or running public transport.

The project team – led by Lancaster University and Blackpool Council – discussed how to create a thriving digital ecosystem which can take advantage of the town’s unique infrastructure to lay the foundations of a new and prosperous economy for Blackpool and the surrounding areas.

One of the drivers of this new opportunity is the landing of the North Atlantic Loop at Blackpool - a next generation, subsea fibre cable system delivering a diverse, high capacity network connection to the USA and Northern Europe - meaning the resort is uniquely positioned to take advantage of ultra-fast internet speeds and super low latency. This supports future technologies such as robotics for sectors ranging from health to advanced manufacturing.

Dion Williams, Director of Research, Enterprise and Innovation at Lancaster University, said: “I was at an event talking to Tony Doyle, the head of IT at Blackpool Council, and we were discussing the North Atlantic Loop and the expansion of the huge windfarm off the coast of Blackpool and wondering if we could come up with something which would utilise these unique opportunities in a way which could provide a real leg-up for Blackpool.

“We decided to create an Innovation Catalyst which is a mechanism which the University has developed – in this case funded by the government’s Community Renewal Fund – to get all the relevant expertise into a room over a six-month period to produce solutions to diverse, place-based challenges. At the end of the discussions, there is then a symposium to present the group’s findings and discuss next steps.

“In Blackpool’s case this was very much a case of the right time, with the right people, in the right place. Some of the ideas created as part of this catalyst could be simply transformational for Blackpool – not just in creating a thriving digital economy and high-value jobs in the town, but also helping those lower income families struggling with their bills and making a real difference in some really deprived communities.”

The key stakeholders who joined the catalyst group included academic advisers, senior council officers, financiers and leaders in sustainable digital infrastructure projects. All were able to bring their expertise to the table to create a unique proposition for Blackpool, which was unveiled during a special symposium at Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre recently.

The next steps will involve further discussions around the feasibility of the plans and exploratory conversations around funding.

Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “It was fantastic to see so many key multi-sector stakeholders come together to discuss how to drive a sustainable revolution in Blackpool.

“The symposium helped us understand the issues and opportunities there are across the globe with sustainably powered digital infrastructures.

“With our transatlantic fibre connectivity and offshore renewables Blackpool and the Fylde Coast is uniquely placed to offer solutions to a more sustainable future.

“A future in which data is powered ethically from renewable sources and waste heat is captured to sustain our community.

“This gives us a once in a generation opportunity to tackle the climate emergency head on and support the development and growth of future jobs in fast-growing parts of the economy.”

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