A NERC funding programme aims to address two of the biggest environmental science challenges in urban areas across the UK today.  Air quality and water management innovation projects will have a regional focus as part of the Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE) initiative.

RISE will fund two regionally focused projects, one led by the University of Birmingham, of up to £4 million each over five years, with each Institution providing a further £1 million each towards their projects.

RISE aims to bring research organisations together with businesses, policy bodies and other actors contributing to economic development specific to their location, to deliver significant regional impact from NERC environmental science.

The projects will see two of the UK's top universities working with businesses, civil society organisations and policymakers in their area to generate a range of economic and societal benefits. The aim is to translate excellent NERC-funded research into actions that improve performance, resilience and sustainability, and support local growth.

Duncan Wingham, NERC’s Executive Chair said “The societal and economic benefits of the RISE innovation programmes will be specific to their region, and this NERC research has the potential to provide lessons that can be applied much more widely.

Poor air quality is a major environmental threat to Public Health in many urban regions across the UK.  Air pollution in the West Midlands affects some 2.8 million people, reducing average life expectancy by several months, and is responsible for direct and indirect economic costs of several hundred million pounds. 

Led by Professor William Bloss at the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, WM-Air will provide improved understanding of pollution sources and levels in the region, and new capability to predict air quality, health and economic impacts of potential policy measures. It will support the application of these to specific case studies across the West Midlands, ranging from major infrastructure projects such as HS2, to making effective use of Green Infrastructure (urban vegetation) across the city.

Professor Bloss said: “Improving air quality will bring direct health benefits to millions of people, reduce direct and indirect economic costs and enhance quality of life across the West Midlands.  WM-Air will bring together the latest environmental science from air pollution, health and economic research experts, to support policy makers, key industry bodies and businesses to help reduce the impacts of air pollution in the region, and support clean growth.”

Project partners include the West Midlands Combined Authority, Transport for West Midlands, local authorities across the region including Birmingham, Walsall and Coventry City Councils, Dudley / WMEPG (LETCP), Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, Birmingham & Solihull NHS Sustainability & Transformation Partnership, NHS Sustainable Development Unit, HS2, Arup, Temple Group, Ricardo Energy & Environment, Network Rail, Calthorpe Estates, Natural England, Network Rail, National Express, Sustrans West Midlands, Amey, WM TDAG, Forest Research, The Floow, CERC, EDAR Hager Environmental & Atmospheric Technologies (HEAT) and Amazon Web Services. 

The growing population of London, and its planned housing, require water to be supplied and flooding to be reduced as far as possible. However, the region is vulnerable to water shortages (droughts) and floods. This challenge is likely to worsen with climate change alongside the expected economic growth of London and associated increase in population. 

Led by Dr Adrian Butler of Imperial College London, the programme aims to transform collaborative water management to support the provision of lower cost and better performing water infrastructure in the context of significant housing development, whilst improving people's local environments and their quality of life.

Dr Butler said; “CAMELLIA will bring together environmental, engineering, urban planning and socio-economic experts with governmental and planning authorities, industry, developers and citizens to provide solutions that will enable required housing growth in London whilst sustainably managing water and environment in the city.”

Project partners include Peabody, one of London’s oldest and largest housing providers, responsible for one of the largest single development sites in London, Thamesmead. Capitalising on the developments’ green and blue assets, they hope to benefit from an integrated approach to the water systems to help them make the right decisions. Other project partners include Thames Water, London Underground, Greater London Authority, and Affinity Water, plus a number of local communities and housing estate residents.

The RISE projects will commence in October 2018.

NERC is the UK's main funder of environmental science. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects tackling major environmental issues. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

Beck Lockwood, University of Birmingham press office, tel +44 (0)121 414 2772