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ADEPT Live Labs 2: the race to decarbonise local UK roads

Funded by the Department for Transport (DfT), the £30m Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) Live Labs 2: Decarbonising Local Roads programme is a three-year, UK-wide initiative.

Programme Director, Giles Perkins, talks about how Live Labs 2 will push the boundaries of innovation to set a high bar for evidenced carbon reduction.

Live Labs 2 follows the successful ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs 1, which ran for two years to June 2022 and was also funded by DfT. Live Labs 1 saw eight innovative projects develop new SMART approaches across communications, materials, energy solutions, mobility and environment in the highways landscape.

To date, the carbon focus in the transport mobility space has largely (and rightly) been tailpipe emissions, leading to clear trajectories towards the decarbonisation of vehicles. But beyond some local and tactical interventions, not much has been considered in the space of embedded carbon in local roads construction, maintenance and decommissioning and what this means for the sector.

Live Labs 2 is one of the biggest research and development programmes being funded by DfT at the moment. UK spend on local highways assets is a multi-billion annual expenditure but we don’t know the carbon impact. The programme seeks to address this with a laser sharp focus on removing carbon from the local roads lifecycle.

In simple terms, the Live Labs 2 remit is to understand the problem and find out how to fix it. The programme has a huge ambition – to fundamentally change how we embed decarbonisation into our decision-making and to share our learning with the wider sector to enable behaviour change.

With a focus on Scope two and three emissions, the programme has seven Live Labs clustered into four interconnected themes, which together cover the majority of the local roads ‘envelope’ – the fence to fence along corridors and across places – over the entire lifecycle. The Live Labs will bring together local authority led innovation and a collaborative approach to create a long-lasting transformation of business as usual.

aerial view of expressway

It was an incredibly inspiring and competitive process and the winning teams demonstrated that they not only had the ideas, but also the motivation and drive to try things that haven’t been done before. This is fundamental to the Live Labs ethos and means that not everything will work – it is part of the learning process to reinvent and find different ways of doing things.

Alongside the Live Labs 2 projects, the Commissioning Board – a hand-picked group of individuals from across the highways sector – will have a key role to play over the next three years in steering the programme, providing independent scrutiny, opportunities for advocacy and support. We also have a significant monitoring and evaluation programme wrapped around this, which will run for five years beyond the end of Live Labs 2. 

As with Live Labs 1, engaging with industry and sharing our insights and learnings is a fundamental part of the Live Labs 2 agenda. We will do this throughout the programme, documenting both the innovations that have worked as well as those that haven’t, to the benefit of all.

The four interconnected themes are:

  • A UK centre of excellence for materials – providing a centralised hub for research and innovation for the decarbonisation of local roads materials, developing a knowledge bank, real-life conditions testing and sharing and learning insights: North Lanarkshire Council & Transport for West Midlands.
  • Corridor and place-based decarbonisation – a suite of corridor and place-based decarbonisation interventions covering urban through to rural applications, trailing, testing and showcasing applications within the circular economy and localism agendas: Wessex partnership (Somerset County Council, Cornwall Council and Hampshire County Council), Devon County Council, and Liverpool City Council.
  • A green carbon laboratory – examining the role that the non-operational highways ‘green’ asset can play in providing a source of materials and fuels to decarbonise highway operations: South Gloucestershire Council & West Sussex County Council.
  • A future lighting testbed – a systems-based examination of the future of lighting for local roads to determine what assets are needed for our future networks and how they can be further decarbonised across their lifecycle: East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

The seven Live Labs are:

  • Devon County Council: A382 (Including Jetty Marsh Link Road) – Carbon Negative Project.
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council (in partnership with the Department for Infrastructure, Northern Ireland; Cambridgeshire County Council; Derbyshire County Council; Hull City Council; Lancashire County Council; Oxfordshire County Council; Westminster City Council and York City Council): High Visual Efficiency for low carbon lighting – decarbonising street lighting.
  • Liverpool City Council (in partnership with Aberdeen City Council, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Newcastle City Council): Liverpool ‘Ecosystem of Things’ driving a low-carbon economy.
  • North Lanarkshire Council: UK Centre of Excellence for Material Decarbonisation in Local Roads
  • South Gloucestershire Council and West Sussex County Council: Greenprint – a net carbon-negative systems model for green infrastructure management.
  • Transport for West Midlands: Highways CO2llaboration Centre for materials decarbonisation.
  • Wessex partnership (Somerset County Council, Cornwall Council and Hampshire County Council): Wessex Live Labs – Net Zero Corridors.

Image: Irina Blok and ADEPT

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