Why changing car technology will challenge planners, by Richard Garlick

It seems increasingly likely that the car industry will change radically within the next twenty years or so. Both the UK and France have recently committed to ban the sale of new petrol cars by 2040, and electric car manufacturer Tesla has just released its first vehicle intended for the mass market.

In addition, the prospect of driverless cars on Britain’s streets seems to be becoming less remote. The news earlier this month that Fiat Chrysler is to join a consortium led by BMW and Intel that aims to develop fully driverless cars by 2021 is just the latest evidence of how seriously the major manufacturers are taking the technology.

An apparently imminent revolution in automotive technology poses potentially big challenges for planners. Proponents of autonomous vehicles claim they have the potential to free up valuable city land by reducing the need for wide roads and car parking.

Plan-makers will soon have to start making decisions about how seriously to take these predictions as they consider towns and cities’ future development. If nothing else, they may wish to plan in ways that does not preclude the use of autonomous vehicles in their areas.

However, there will rightly be caution about whether local plans should be predicated on a technological future forecast in the period in which they are being written, given the difficulty of accurately forecasting digital trends.

Electric vehicles are a more concrete prospect than driverless cars, and not surprisingly the planning system is taking more practical action to accommodate them.

National policy (the National Planning Policy Framework) and some regional policy (the London Plan) requires planning authorities to incorporate facilities for charging electric vehicles.

Several authorities use local plan policies to require electric vehicle provision, and others use their development control powers to require developers to provide electric vehicle charging points.

The scale of such activity seems set to increase rapidly, as electric cars become an increasingly common sight on our streets.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // richard.garlick@haymarket.com

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