Driverless cars and space hub plans set out in Queen's Speech

Government is to introduce a Modern Transport Bill which will include measures to govern the use of driverless cars, rules for the use of drones and create the UK’s first commercial spaceports. The plans were set out in today’s Queen’s speech.

The government also reaffirmed its commitment to the development of the Northern Powerhouse. This includes pledges of £15 billion spending on transport across the region, the go-ahead to HS3 and the creation of Transport for the North.

The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill will continue from 2015/16 session which will provide the government with the legal powers to construct and operate Phase One of HS2.

The Queen’s Speech also confirmed the announcement originally made by George Osborne at the Conservative Party conference in the autumn that local authorities in England will be able to retain 100% of their business rates. 

A Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill will reform planning and give local communities more power and control to shape their own area. Specific measures include speeding up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement conditions as well as a streamlining of processes to enable local communities to agree a neighbourhood plan for development in their local area.

 In addition, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will be put on a new statutory footing. The Bill will seek to meet the government’s target of building over one million new homes whilst protecting the green belt. It will also seek to make the Compulsory Purchase Order process clearer and faster including the context within which compensation is negotiated. 

Other reforms included the anticipated privatisation of Land Registry which will produce a capital receipt to the Exchequer.

Reaction from the sector was largely positive, as one might expect as manyt f the reforms outlined reaffirmed pledges made earlier:

“We welcome the government's commitment to promoting autonomous and electric vehicles. A genuinely inclusive approach is vital if the UK is to benefit fully from this rapidly emerging technology. With many competing priorities for the UK’s finite pool of skilled engineers, companies both large and small must have equally compelling incentives to participate,”said Paul McCormick, Managing Director –Transportation, UK & Ireland and Continental Europe, AECOM.

“The government must also consider the international picture, where the UK risks falling behind other EU member states in the development of connected vehicle infrastructure. For example, consideration needs to be given to how the current Roads Investment Programme should be adapted so that new routes and Smart Motorways can be made ready for both driverless and connected vehicles.  

“Along with the technology and its application, resolving the non-technological issues is also important in order for driverless and connected vehicles to operate effectively across borders. This includes operation and standardisation, as well as legislation, insurance and liability issues. A well targeted and coordinated programme of investment and procurement will enable the UK to reap the economic benefits of tomorrow’s smarter vehicles”

Rachel Skinner, development director at WSP Group and author of a recent report on autonomous vehicles, said: “It’s not a question of if, but when autonomous vehicles will be on our roads. The technology is arriving fast, so today’s announcement is a welcome boost to the already considerable momentum towards this happening in the near future.

“Autonomous and driverless vehicles will be transformational, particularly in freeing up land now used for parking spaces that will not be needed in future. Our research shows each hectare of additional developable land is worth millions. Freeing up this land will create more viable developments that will increase housing and boost UK plc. Shared autonomous vehicles will require storage hubs, but not parking spaces. This means we can redesign our town squares, reclaim our driveways and build more densely in cities," Skinner said.

Commenting on the inclusion of the National Infrastructure Commission in the Queen’s speech (Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill), Sir John Armitt, Institution of Civil Engineers President and member of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Setting the Commission on a statutory footing formalises and upholds its role and purpose, this is an important milestone.

 “The mood in the Commission is very positive, as we work towards developing proposals on the deployment of 5G and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor. Critical work to identify the UK’s longer term infrastructure needs is also progressing, and the independent ICE led ‘national needs assessment’ - which will be provided to the Commission in the autumn to support its own needs analysis - is currently being produced following a period of extensive evidence gathering across the UK.”

Meanwhile the RICS picked up on the potential of the Neighbourhood Planning proposals.

An RICS spokesperson said: "Nobody is in any doubt that we are in the grip of a housing crisis, and it will take some radical reforms to ensure that we are delivering the housing and infrastructure that this country needs. To that end, there is much merit in the proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

"We have long argued that local communities and councils should be able to play a greater role in delivering housing supply. At the zenith of England’s national housebuilding efforts under Harold McMillan in 1968, 40 per cent of all homes were developed by councils. We would like to see Government use this bill to seize on Britain’s historic sense of community, and put practical plans in place to encourage neighbourhood groups to come together on self-build projects and tackle the growing housing shortage.

"The Government’s commitment to deliver new homes and infrastructure has been hindered by blocks in the planning system. We know that local authority planning departments are often under-resourced, which results in delays to building projects. This would be fixed through the regional introduction of teams of trouble-shooting planners known as the ‘Planning Flying Squad’, who would be parachuted in to support struggling authorities and speed up planning processes.  

"A momentous change is the Government’s proposed plans for the compulsory purchase of homes and land. The current system is slow and cumbersome and does much to delay the delivery of much needed new homes and infrastructure. A new framework that defines compensation across all schemes, would be a seismic shift.

"Together, these changes will address delays in planning, give power to local communities and will accelerate the construction of new homes and infrastructure once planning permission has been granted.  This will go some way to addressing the long standing housing crisis and building the infrastructure that our country needs."