SPOTLIGHT: Plans for £1bn 'smart city' on the Solent

Joseph Flaig

Owner and project leader Aldred Drummond in front of the old Fawley Power Station (Credit: Steph Osmond Photography)
Owner and project leader Aldred Drummond in front of the old Fawley Power Station (Credit: Steph Osmond Photography)

Nestled between the low trees of the New Forest and the cold, lapping water of the Solent, a technological revolution is happening.

A 250-acre site houses a half-dismantled 1960s oil-fired power station – but one day, say developers, it will be a thriving home for thousands of people, a base for advanced engineering companies and a testbed for cutting-edge smart technology.

The brainchild of strategic property developer Aldred Drummond, the £1bn Fawley Waterside project aims to create a ‘smart merchant city’ half-an-hour’s drive from Southampton. In-built superfast broadband will serve a wide variety of Internet of Things (IoT) applications including energy, travel and community service “solutions”, while thousands of advanced manufacturing, offshore energy and marine jobs will create a self-sustaining community. 

The IMechE has signed a memorandum of understanding with the project, which is also backed by companies including IBM, Siemens, Vodafone and Cisco. The institution will release a report entitled Smart Cities: Technology Friend or Foe? this month, looking ahead to the potential security challenges of hyper-connected communities.

“Our interest in the merchant city is very much in line with this, as an innovative programme that has potential to be a showcase for new technology and how that technology can improve our lives,” said IMechE chief executive Stephen Tetlow. 

Embracing technology

Drummond and his investors bought the “extraordinary” site from RWE Npower in 2015, returning ancestral land to his family. The developer owns the neighbouring Cadland Estate and said Fawley is “home… it is very, very much part of my heart and part of me really”.

A strong local link is perhaps one reason why Drummond is determined to do something ambitious with the site, but the vision is also underpinned by a desire to create a specialism in high-tech industry and to embrace advanced technology for its residents. The development team talks about autonomous ride hailing and water taxis, and Drummond hopes one day to use local solar generation and tidal energy. 

Pointing to mobile phones dotted around an office in the site’s uncompromising 1960s Brutalist reception, he said: “This is the way the world is going, and if you want to be a place of the future you have got to embrace that technology.”


The site's Brutalist reception building (Credit: Joseph Flaig)

Including superfast broadband and IoT technology from the start – rather than retrofitting it – will allow marine engineering and other manufacturing companies to embrace high-end data services. 

Developers are also exploring advanced mechanical systems. A 4,000-space car park in the power station’s giant basement will use an adaptable steel frame, offering simple capacity reduction as mobility requirements change with increasing autonomy, and an Envac vacuum waste system could serve residents’ homes. 

The project’s inclusion of advanced technology from the start is one of the reasons it has won the IMechE’s backing. The government should include electricity system requirements for fully-integrated smart cities, said Tetlow, ensuring reliable access to future power infrastructure. He also called on city authorities to collaborate more to further the understanding of smart city technology and the education system to provide skills for a new digital society. 

Fawley Waterside could be an exemplar of this, he said – the University of Southampton is studying and working closely with the project, and its research could inform other developments. 

Overall, the project is expected to take 20 years. Developers hope to get planning permission this year as the power station is demolished. The first phase of homes, jobs and the dock could open in 2020. 

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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