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ADEPT Autumn Conference 2023 - Summary from the CEO

ADEPT's Chief Executive Officer, Hannah Bartram shares her highlights from the ADEPT Autumn Conference 2023.

I’m so pleased to say that the feedback on this year’s Autumn conference says it was the best yet! It was a fantastic atmosphere and the range of subjects, speakers and contributors really demonstrated the sheer breadth of interests we all have as place directors.

Thursday’s sessions

We opened with The current public mood, the political dynamic, and the agenda for place featuring Rachel Brisley, IPSOS Mori; Jason Pavey, AtkinsRealis; and Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Vice Chair of the LGA. Unsurprisingly, analysis of the public mood was pretty pessimistic, but the fact that polling indicates that there is still much public trust in local authorities was a positive. Most people want more local decision-making and support us having more powers. A strong message was that as providers of essential public services, we should see ourselves as equal partners with government – we are not just another group with a begging bowl – voters want reliable public services. The private sector view was that investors are pushing harder on their Boards to support decarbonisation, so, no matter how bumpy things get, the general direction remains the same.

Our second session discussed The future of transport – driving change over the next 10 years. Jessica Matthew from DfT reviewed recent government announcements, particularly HS2 and its implications for the major roads network (MRN). The government is not going to be proscriptive on how Local Integrated Transport Settlements are spent and guidance on the MRN bidding process is due in Spring 2024. Danny Williams talked through the benefits of using Active Travel England to support Local Plans, consultations and road improvement and construction schemes in encouraging modal shift and how getting walking right can be the key to success. Professor Greg Marsden from the University of Leeds while sounded the alarm on our carbon targets, also offered what can be the most effective short term actions: enable people to do what they want without cars, work with companies to pool resources, create residential travel plans and coordinate travel

Our final session of the day was a reflection on What we learned from Covid-19. Professor Ivan Browne was Director of Public PH at Leicester City Council - the first area in the country to be locked down and we first welcomed Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy when she was President of ADPH. They both thought we were in danger of losing some of the lessons we so painfully learnt and had very similar reflections - the importance of trust with communities and prioritising thinking locally over nationally; that there is plenty of goodwill, but it is finite; and how inequality runs through absolutely everything. We need to retain the flexibility, adaptability and resilience we put in place and how much we need partnerships. I remember thinking as I looked around the conference hall, how in that area, we go from strength to strength.


Unsurprisingly, the focus of Delivering local nature recovery led by Jacobs, was on funding. The development of markets for various types of credits (biodiversity net gain, nutrient neutrality, carbon offsetting, etc.) means that we will have to develop the capacity to blend and stack the various potential income streams. Although we’ve had funding for creating our local nature recovery strategies (LNRS), implementation is a different story. We will have to review our land holdings for alignment with LNRS priorities and potential to attract income streams.

Decarbonising local roads / Live Labs 2 led by Ringway and our project teams focused on how we make the most of the programme across the industry. The importance of wider learning and sharing and how it can be used across the sector is central to the programme, from how politicians at all levels need to ensure infrastructure lifecycles consider carbon impact, to the importance of procurement flexibility for innovation and the development of learning methods. Find out more on our Live Labs 2 pages.

The future of AI led by Colas focused on practical application to demystify this fast changing technology. We looked at Chat GPT of course, but also how AI is being used to improve health and safety on construction sites. For example, using sensors and AI to evaluate noise and air quality and using an app to improve communication between operators and residents, or to enable rapid and accurate risk assessments and minimise form filling without losing vital data. Also, using mathematical optimisation to improve the efficiency of shipping and delivery routes and supply chain planning. There is no doubt that AI will disrupt how we think about and visualise data, but it is also a tool to enhance our capability, knowledge and outcomes.

Shaping mobility systems with WSP examined the key principles that should inform how we design for our future travel needs, focused on customer and place. Our places are evolving and with an aging population, climate change and increases in remote working. Climate and resilience, enabling thriving and inclusive communities and maximising the positive impacts on future generations should all inform our thinking. How would our approach change if we put people at the heart of our future plans instead of the wheels on the bus? What would the outcomes be and what technologies have the potential to become business as usual?

Greening our urban places with Costain also featured the National Trust. Its Future Parks Accelerator programme was a response to the continued declined in public funding for local parks and green spaces. Participating councils stressed the importance of innovation, including highways assets getting the right people involved, building political understanding and support, and seeing parks as key health assets. We need to be smarter about using health and natural capital accounting in business cases for projects and investment. Tools being developed include Natural England’s ’s Environmental Benefits from Nature Tool.

Our final workshop, Thought leadership in the place space was led by Amey and members of the PACE programme. With increasing pressure from the public on local and central government, the use of behavioural change techniques has grown – both to help manage public expectations and to influence wider policy aims. The programme has looked at how we can harness more voices across the public and private sectors to generate new ways of thinking and encourage leadership to commit even when a decision is unpopular. We regularly publish blogs and outputs from the PACE sessions, find out more here.

Friday’s sessions

I can’t say much about our 4th session, but it’s safe to say that no-one there had time to drift off into a Friday morning lull. Protecting the physical and engineered world was a whistle stop tour through security measures that every place director and local authority should be thinking about from the built environment to LinkedIn. I would encourage everyone to visit the National Protective Security Authority website where there are plenty of resources for place.

We finished off with the opportunities and challenges of delivering our environmental ambitions with Kate Kennally, Cornwall Council; Jo Wall, Local Partnerships; and Pedro Wrobel, Westminster City Council. In some ways the session picked up from our very first. It debated how, when we our faced with fluctuations in policy and popularity, conspiracy theory and the cost of living crisis, we can communicate more successfully with our communities. We need to emphasise the co-benefits for the economy, health and levelling up. As Carolyn pointed out, the GVA per employee of the net zero economy is higher than the national average. We also discussed how to support our politicians with evidence as well as messaging. Pedro walked us through the design of Westminster's Environmental Justice Measure, a tool that supports evidence based decision-making.

The ADEPT Autumn Conference is always special – thought provoking, challenging and most importantly, full of ideas and different approaches, far too much to be able to cover in this round up. It’s always great to see familiar and new faces and listen to fresh perspectives from across our broad family of partners, colleagues, suppliers and friends. The Conference programme and slide decks are available here.

Our next gathering will be the ADEPT Spring Conference and Annual Awards Dinner on 16th May 2024, so save the date in your diaries now!


Hannah Bartram, ADEPT Chief Executive Officer

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