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WEEKEND WEB: Investment in new technology is vital but it must improve our wellbeing

Driverless car
Driverless car


The Budget is one of the great Parliamentary occasions. In time-honoured fashion, the Chancellor stands outside the door of Number 11 Downing Street, with his famous red Budget Box, and proceeds to a packed House of Commons to deliver the Government’s financial plans for the coming year.

An important pillar of the Chancellor’s statement last week was investment in new technologies to secure our long-term productivity and prosperity. Looking ahead, it is necessary to anticipate the challenges and opportunities of the future; Public, private and civic authorities must combine in an effective partnership to make the most of the chances that technological change will bring.

No technology is more emblematic of the pace of such advances than electric and driverless vehicles. They have the capacity to revolutionise the way we drive – reducing congestion and allowing us to work during journeys – as well as bringing important benefits for air quality. As the Minister of State for Transport, I am responsible for legislation to bring these vehicles to the road, so I was pleased to see that effort was made a priority by the Treasury. The Government is establishing a new £400million fund to improve charging infrastructure, and investing a further £40 million in research and development.

Investment of this kind is vital, but we must ensure too that new technology improves our wellbeing. Not all change is efficacious and technological advance brings no implicit ethical guarantees nor aesthetic virtues.

The infrastructure of our Victorian railways is loved and cherished in a way that most modern motorways are not simply because railways often work in harmony with the natural environment where, too often, roads have not.

Railway bridges, stations and signal boxes were once built according to time-honoured architecture principles and we must rekindle these ideals as we prepare for new technology on the road. The spread of car ownership should have been matched by an emphasis on well-being nurtured by beauty, but instead, for the most part, we have witnessed the simultaneous imposition of alienating infrastructure with a consequent destructive disconnect between society and the environment. Now we must do better.

TS Eliot captured something essential when he wrote: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.” We are all products of our past, and guarantors of our treasured inheritance for the generations to come. For all we have known, been and done informs, inspires and enlivens all we can know, be and do. Our investment programme provides a new opportunity to improve the aesthetic of what we build.

As future transport transforms the way we live and work, the Government’s endeavours must mean that we use these changes to enhance each and all our lives.


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