Insight: Sustainable smart cities - building links with Malaysia

In February the Department for International Trade (as was) invited UKCRIC to join its ‘Sustainable Smart City’ delegation to Malaysia
Insight: Sustainable smart cities -  building links with Malaysia
UKCRIC Executive Manager (University of Birmingham)

In February the Department for International Trade (as was) invited UKCRIC to join its ‘Sustainable Smart City’ delegation to Malaysia, designed to strengthen links between Malaysia and the UK’s Midlands region. Prof Sergio Cavalaro of Loughborough University and I stepped up to represent UKCRIC and explore Malaysia’s vibrant engineering ecosystem.

The theme of the mission was ‘sustainable smart cities’ with a focus on future mobility and sustainable construction. The delegation was based in Kuala Lumpur, one of the fastest growing cities in Asia, facing the familiar challenges of resource depletion, congestion, health, poverty, and waste management. The Malaysian Government believes that smart cities, with an emphasis on liveability, sustainability and competitiveness, preparedness and resilience can be part of the solution to these challenges and to addressing climate change.

In a packed programme over three days the UK delegation learnt about the journey that Malaysia has been on to drive forward both its digital and sustainability agendas. It also explored some of the challenges Malaysia is facing, including working collaboratively across sectors and leveraging the country’s engineering research base – issues close to UKCRIC’s heart.

Of particular interest was the Bandar Sunway development, a privately built, owned and operated area of the city containing a hotel, university, residences, offices, roads, transport, utility services and, of course, a waterpark. All built, owned, operated, and maintained by Sunway but integrated into the wider city. It provided an interesting insight into how decisions are made differently if the same organisation designs, builds and operates. Spoiler alert – it isn’t easy to do it this way either.

The delegation was treated to a visit to Cyberjaya, a city with a science park at its core that is a live site for innovation and experimentation. The park is currently testing how well autonomous buses serve its resident companies. There is also a test EV charging hub, which may not sound that exciting but was a masterclass in the importance of knowing the local context as the simultaneous extremes of hot weather and torrential rain make for a challenging EV charging environment in Malaysia.

Sustainability and liveability were threaded through the presentations from government representatives and organisations. However, the reality of a growing middle class is that households aspire to own more than one, or even two, cars. The delegation heard repeatedly how this isn’t something that can be easily changed. The appetite for EVs is low, with an optimistic expectation of 50% market share by 2050. Compare this with the UK, which has banned the sale of new ICE vehicles from 2030, and you can suddenly see how influential government targets are and how global vehicles sales will change as countries phase out ICE vehicles at different rates.

For UKCRIC, there were two core take aways. The first is for our Midlands members to work more closely with Malaysian universities like Asia Pacific University and others to offer student exchanges. The second is to encourage the UK and Malaysian governments to support cross-county research programmes, something the (now) Department for Business and Trade is keen to take forward.

If you would like to become involved in the work UKCRIC is doing with Malaysia, contact us at

Particular thanks go to the Department for Business and Trade's Louis Curtis, Shehzad Chaudhary and Michael Carling for the invitation; Wippd’s Raj Mendhir for the organisation and expert facilitation; and the British High Commission Kuala Lumpur’s High Commissioner and Clifford Bebb for hosting us.