Keeping our capital working for the UK

Print this page

Former Counter-Terrorism Minister sets out challenges for cities

Organised in conjunction with CIR Magazine, the World Cities Conference (9-10 October) brings together security experts from across the world.

They will look at how cities can be made safer, more secure, smarter and more resilient from threats of terrorism, cyber-attack and crime, as well as natural disasters and other issues, such as migration.

Ahead of the event, CIR Magazine spoke to the Rt Hon The Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC, former Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism, about the challenges faced by our fast growing urban environments.

CIR: What are the key challenges in maintaining resilient cities?

Lord West: Our cities are growing fast. In 1980, the world’s population was about 4.5 billion. By 2030, that same number will be living in cities, or megacities. That is equivalent to two in three of the world’s population living in these massive urban clusters/sprawls and so it’s vital that we address the problems that will inevitably arise out of this considerable urbanisation.

We know that urbanisation makes populations more vulnerable to natural catastrophe, and contagious disease. The fact that more cities are in coastal regions is a particular risk as we find the world sea levels are rising and the climate does seem to be getting worse. Cities are also an obvious magnet for terrorists, as they can hide much more easily and there are limitless targets.

How resilient is our critical infrastructure?

Our greater reliance on automated technologies, for all their benefits, creates just as many opportunities for terrorists and serious organised criminals who set out to disrupt transport systems and electrical power supplies, for instance, which could have a potentially dramatic impact on our critical systems. It would appear that the skills of organised crime rings perpetrating cyber threats are outpacing our own defence tactics.

Other vulnerable infrastructures, including water supplies, also require hardening in some cities around the world; as is the issue of energy demand – even in this country. Supply can barely match demand as it is. There is also the question around resilience to withstanding attacks, and the time taken to recover in the event of an incident. That is a vitally important issue that needs addressing.

What developments in government and industry perpetuate these risks?

More and more businesses are working to a ‘just in time’ philosophy, which has a great many benefits, but, on the downside, can have an almost immediate negative effect on people through the supply chain as JIT manufacturing is inherently less resilient.

Eighty per cent of the critical national infrastructure in this country is privately owned.  And so, while the government carries out some effective work on resilience planning, I think the companies involved in the country’s CNI need to share the intelligence and information that will help underpin a more resilient infrastructure. We’ve got to talk to each other more because we’re so interconnected. I don’t believe that the various market forces are good at this, and government will need to push for this.

And finally…

Among the goals of the National Security Strategy is a secure and resilient UK. I think the Civil Contingencies Secretariat has carried out some good work in pressing home the resilience agenda, and this as is important as it is difficult to do. And while I think we are getting better at it, more needs to be done.

We have to think about different kinds of scenarios – including high impact, low probability events, which we perhaps have not been so good at in the past. We have the capacity to do this and much more, but we need to talk to each other, between cities and nations. Out of this conference will come a greater pressure to build on this. There are a great many benefits that come from living in cities, and the trend towards doing so will not stop.

Admiral The Rt. Hon. Baron West of Spithead is the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Security and Counter-Terrorism)

Lord West will address delegates at the World Cities Conference on 9th October 2014. Organised by London First and CIR Magazine, the two-day event will take a holistic look at how cities can be made safer, more secure, smarter and more resilient by better predictive, protective and responsive measures.

Contact: Robert Hall,

London First Tweets