Last year saw the government launch its ’Road to Zero Strategy’ and introduce the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018.

Charlie Reid Ashurst

Last year saw the government launch its “Road to Zero Strategy” and introduce the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. The former outlines the UK’s goal to end sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 while the latter seeks to improve electric charge point availability, part of the government’s “electric vehicle revolution”. The government is not shy of promoting the UK’s leadership in SMART cities and innovative transport projects that increase productivity and reduce congestion and emissions are a key part of this, so much so that a £1.7 billion Transforming Cities Fund has been created for up to 10 English city regions to work with the government to develop proposals and boost local economies.

But how will this bundle of transport, technology and mobility changes (including driverless vehicles, connected vehicles and transport systems, shared use models and electric vehicles) affect development projects as they navigate the planning system and what are the opportunities and constraints facing developers, investors and local authorities?

The planning system is plan-led, meaning that local planning authorities are required to make plans to encourage and regulate development in their areas. On top of this, planning law requires that applications for planning permission be determined in accordance with the adopted development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. This is fundamental because the extent to which the planning system can support the delivery of “new mobility” will depend on the policy objectives of authorities concerned and the extent to which these keep abreast of technology.

Electric cars

Source: Shutterstock/welcomia

Some carmakers are investing a lot of money in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure

London has seen rapid change in this area. Not long ago a request to contribute towards cycling and wayfinding infrastructure, provide a car-free commitment, make provision for a car club or provide electric vehicle charging points would have been unusual but today each of these items are routinely secured in section 106 agreements across London. Such measures complement an increased emphasis on place-making, reflecting the trend towards making our cities “liveable” in the face of increasing urbanisation.

“New mobility” is then already being implemented and the planning system has so far been able to accommodate changing transport demands. The statutory framework created by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the legal tools available to developers and authorities to secure consents and deliver development remain broadly fit for purpose and capable of meeting changing policy objectives.

“The extent to which the planning system can support the delivery of “new mobility” will depend on the policy objectives of authorities concerned”

However, the constraints facing developers and authorities today will continue to inhibit the Government’s ambition to transform our cities. These include: ensuring sustainable transport measures attract focus and resource in the face of competing demands, particularly housing pressure; ensuring policy and any planning gain secured keeps up with technology; ensuring that the financial viability and deliverability of development is not undermined; employing a regional approach to secure comprehensive solutions; and minimising complexity.

Achieving the government’s ambition of quickly scaling-up the new mobility ecosystem will require leaders, developers, investors and planners to seize the opportunity by taking a nimble approach to policy-making and by working collaboratively and flexibly. If such an approach is taken it need not frustrate other key planning objectives such as housing delivery.

Charlie Reid, senior associate, Ashurst