Driverless vehicles could see Birmingham reclaim 1,000 hectares of land

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The push towards introducing driverless vehicles in the UK could free up more than 1,000 hectares of land in Birmingham alone – enough space to build the equivalent of 17,000 homes across the city.

The new figures come from design and consultancy firm Arcadis, whose latest report Autonomous Mobility explores the disruptive influence that Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) will have on the UK’s biggest cities.

With Arcadis estimating that a CAV revolution could allow for the reclamation of up to 80% of space currently allocated to car parking in every city, it says there is a “unique window of opportunity” for local authorities and major developers to consider how Birmingham and the Midlands can best adapt now to exploit the potential benefits of driverless technology in the future.

The Arcadis report recognises that every city has its own dynamic and, to be successful, driverless vehicles will need to be integrated with and work alongside the existing network.

“In Birmingham, where there needs to be a focus on tackling congestion, improving public transport and creating opportunities for new homes and jobs by encouraging more healthy travel options, like walking or cycling, this means early local government engagement with the private sector will be essential if the benefits of CAV are to be realised and work in parallel with wider mobility objectives,” it said.

The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has already provided over £250m in funding to make the UK a premier development location for CAV, with research and development programmes focused on issues such as connectivity, testing environments and enhanced fleet management.

The West Midlands has been selected as Britain’s first 5G test area, with more than 50 miles of public roads in Birmingham, Coventry and Warwickshire used to trial connected and autonomous vehicles as part of the project.

Simon Marks, city executive for Birmingham and the Midlands at Arcadis, said: “Urban mobility is a major area of advancement in our region. The impact of digital disruption and the proliferation of new and exciting technologies, from electric through to connected and autonomous vehicles, will have a huge impact on the shape of our cities, potentially freeing up space for an extra 17,000 new homes in the Midlands.

“We now have the opportunity to be on the front-foot and projects like Midlands Future Mobility and the AutopleX Consortium’s automated driving technology are setting the pace.  How our city leaders embrace CAV is now the key test which will either enhance or frustrate how well we perform economically and the quality of placemaking in cities like Birmingham and Coventry.  From building CAV into the city planning process, to incentivisation, regulation and licensing, true success will only come if we can recognise and respond proactively to CAV disruption in a way that works specifically for the Midlands and – most importantly – its citizens.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “For Birmingham and the West Midlands to be a world-leading city region it must not only invest in new housing, skills and infrastructure but also be at the cutting edge of new technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles. We are leading other regions in the UK with our CAV and 5G trials. This has the potential to keep people moving, improve social mobility and ease congestion but the full benefits will only be realised if Government, businesses and the local community work together to integrate the city’s transport network.”