Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this order will be made under the Transport and Works Act. The Act is the usual way to authorise the construction or operation of local transport schemes such as a railway, tramway or trolley vehicle system in England and Wales, as well as transport systems using a mode of guided transport prescribed by order. The order is the Transport and Works (Guided Transport Modes) Order 1992, which I shall call the 1992 order. The term “guided transport” is defined as meaning transport by vehicles guided by means external to the vehicles, whether or not the vehicles are also capable of being operated in some other way.
The modes currently prescribed in the 1992 order that can seek authorisation via the Transport and Works Act include road-based and track-based systems, but are limited to those systems guided by physical means, such as cables and tracks. Changes in technology mean that transport systems can now be guided by non-physical means. This might cover simple sensors that detect paint or other road markings to direct a vehicle or more complex sensor systems that read the surrounding environment to direct a vehicle. The draft amendment order being debated today is an enabling provision which will amend the 1992 order to extend it to allow applications for public transport schemes using non-physical guidance systems to be authorised via the Transport and Works Act regime.
To provide further context and background on what the Transport and Works Act covers, it is intended to be a one-stop consenting mechanism for all the necessary powers to deliver and operate a transport scheme in England and Wales. Separate legislation covers similar schemes in Scotland. The Transport and Works Act regime applies only to transport schemes that carry people and goods, meaning it does not provide a route to consent schemes exclusively intended for use by private vehicles. Any scheme authorised via the Transport and Works Act will continue to have to comply with all other relevant legislation such as safety, data and cybersecurity legislation.
The power to make the amending order that is the subject of this debate is set out in Section 2 of the Transport and Works Act. The proposed amendment order is an enabling provision that seeks to allow transport systems that are guided by non-physical guidance systems to seek authorisation through the Act. It does this by adding new types of schemes to the existing list of guided transport modes set out in the 1992 order. These are road based with sensor guidance and track based with sensory guidance. Specific definitions of each of these modes are set in the proposed amendment order. This amendment will not change the process that is required to be followed by a promoter in seeking authorisation; it will simply allow a wider and more modern range of schemes to be considered and authorised under the Act.
I cannot think of much more to say about this order—I have run out of words. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for her brief introduction. I declare that I shall try to be brief in my remarks.
Is there anywhere in the United Kingdom where these new modes of transport are in operation? Does the Minister know of preparations in any given city, town or region? Is there any estimate of when these modes of transport might come on stream? Following on from that, where does this measure leave batteries and hydrogen—if it does—as means of propulsion for transport?
Paragraph 14.1 on page 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“There is no formal periodic review of this statutory instrument.”
That is somewhat inexact. One wonders whether it is on a departmental wing and a prayer. I do not know; the Minister might illuminate us about the department’s intention in this moment.
It is so interesting to see the phrase “guided transport modes”. The Minister was exemplary in her brevity but might she, with the aid of her department, define that further?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction. Planning processes for tram systems have always been notoriously complex and the associated costs have always been high. Are the Government reviewing other aspects of the Act in order to simplify it in line with the new sorts of designs that we will see in future because the costs and complexity deter many local councils, for example, from going ahead with schemes? In time this should be transformational because the built infrastructure required for tramways and busways will be so much simpler than it has been in the past, which should make it much easier to implement.
My Lords, I welcome this instrument to allow applications for public transport schemes using non-physical guidance systems via a Transport and Works Act order. The advance of non-physical guidance systems using sensory technologies is an exciting development in the future of transport; indeed, it is so exciting that we have been studying it for at least 20 years. I am pleased that this instrument will allow consultation on their implementation.
Automation has enormous potential for increasing productivity. If harnessed correctly, it can improve the lives of people around the world but, if it is not properly regulated, there are inherent dangers. The safety of all those involved must be paramount. We must also consider how this will impact employment in the transport industry.
Software will be an essential part of such technology. When you look into it, software auditing is much more frightening than one might expect. We all know from the number of times we have to update our computer or our phone what a moving feast this is. Considerable authority has been given to software in the aviation industry. What agency will have the responsibility for approving these systems, particularly on the software side? Will a new agency have to be set up or will we look to organisations that work in safety-critical software industries?
Can the Minister confirm that my concerns will be considered as part of the Transport and Works Act order process? Innovation such as this should be welcomed as part of a well-regulated and well-legislated framework. Will the Minister briefly explain the department’s wider approach to advancing the use of non-physical guidance systems in transport across the UK? I welcome this order and look forward to its implementation, as well as to the development of new transport systems using this technology.
Once again, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. This time, I will turn first to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. He is right that the software can be incredibly complicated, but software is not limited to non-physically guided public transport systems; it is all over our rail and Tube systems. One of our most famous physically guided transport systems is the Docklands Light Railway. There is software all over the place, and I recognise his comment about updating it and making sure it is fit for purpose. That all fits in with the existing safety regime set out for the different transport modes; it is not necessarily connected to granting planning, which is under consideration today. I will write with some more information about how we reassure ourselves that appropriate checks of the software have been made.
I turn to how we are taking this forward across the UK, and this links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about whether or not there are any of these things. We believe this technology has huge potential, with a driver in it or not. At this moment in time, there is not one technology that is at the forefront or that is just about to be built. One might have pods that could be operated on specially built guide-ways, shuttles or higher-capacity vehicles. We know that people are looking at this.
Actually, the trigger for this amendment came from a request we received from a specific local authority that is trying to authorise a new bus transit route. I cannot say any more on that, at the moment. We are trying to take these interventions and spread them across the UK very much by using the leadership of local transport authorities. My view is that the mayors of our big urban cities are a key part of that. They have received significant amounts of funding under the city region sustainable transport settlements, which they can use to investigate these sorts of interventions. Of course, local transport authorities that are not mayoral authorities can do too.
There is none in operation as we speak, but there are physically guided schemes, as I mentioned; the Docklands Light Railway is up and running. The means of propulsion is also key. The noble Lord mentioned batteries and hydrogen, both of which could be used. You could also use a catenary system, charged rails or all sorts of different things. The key is that the schemes we are looking at are going to be sustainable and low-carbon, and good alternatives to the motor vehicle. We very much hope to see some coming through. I will also write to the noble Lord about why we concluded not to review this order.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about other planning changes. She is right: they can be costly and complex. The Government feel there has to be the right balance between the benefits one gets from these transport schemes and the cost. We have to make sure that they are within their environmental targets and that we engage with the local community. Sometimes it feels very sluggish, that it takes for ever and that it is extraordinarily costly, but I feel that the planning you do before you put a shovel in the ground is always to the good. If you can de-risk a project as much as possible by involving the local community and making sure that everything has been thought of beforehand, you will have more chance of a successful build. Work on planning is going on across government, because we want to check that the system achieves that balance between benefits and any potential costs.
Committee adjourned at 5.09 pm.