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The Future Of Mobility Is At Real Estate’s Door


In March, the Department for Transport published its Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy. For this first time, the document outlines the government’s intention to capitalise in a strategic sense on the opportunities offered by future mobility, including electric, autonomous and connected vehicles. By building on existing best practice, the plan is to ensure the country is fit for future generations. 

“Now we have the government’s mobility principles in front of us, it’s time to get involved,” WSP’s UK Head of Transport Rachel Skinner said. 

By doing so the private sector, and specifically real estate, can help to unlock new land for development and boost the entire country’s health and wealth. Areas such as the Midlands are already making significant headway.

“We have a choice,” Skinner said. “Either we carry on with blind faith that all these mobility changes will magically come together, that technology firms will all have the same community interests at heart as well as commercial returns, and that the combined impacts and outcomes of overlapping concepts are aligned to best effect. 

“Or we recognise that we must have a unified plan to engage private and public sectors, which can adapt over time as we learn from new experience. The DfT document is a bold attempt in this direction.”

Mobility technologies coming soon

“Zero tailpipe emission cars are replacing those powered by fossil fuels,” the DfT’s paper states. “Self-driving vehicles will soon allow disabled people and older people to enjoy the freedom to travel that the rest of us take for granted. And advances in data will improve the way that transport services are devised, planned and delivered for the passenger.”

Overall, the paper contains nine principles that will guide the government’s response to these emerging transport technologies and business models. The hope is that taking a cohesive approach will allow the UK to overcome some of the real mobility changes that it currently faces — and to generate new placemaking benefits.

“If you draw a line in the sand today, there are three major mobility outcomes that already cost the UK significant money,” Skinner said.  “Congestion, safety and air quality.

“Congestion costs the UK about £40B a year in terms of lost time and knock-on effects. Each road accident fatality costs us about £2M. Poor air quality, half of which is transport related, costs upwards of £54B a year.”

New technologies, implemented well, can reduce these costs considerably. But this is only part of the story, Skinner said. 

“The other part relates to how people and their unique locations incorporate new mobility solutions to best suit them, making the most of local advantages and distinctiveness. This applies nationally at city-scale, such as in Birmingham, and in much more local communities.”


The involvement of real estate

“The fix lies in our willingness to share and work together,” Skinner said. “For example, 80% of a car’s life is typically spent sat outside its owner’s home. The system is not efficient and means that large swathes of land are effectively locked underneath parked vehicles. If we can share mobility in new ways, there is a massive placemaking upside.”

Currently, a large percentage — often more than 15% — of the footprint of a town or city is set aside for parking, both residential and commercial. 

“This is legacy rather than strategy,” Skinner said. “The UK could lead the way in rethinking how we use urban space for new residential, social and commercial uses.”  

There are clearly barriers to working together; the private sector often has little incentive to work with a unified approach. There is a prevailing mentality of ‘someone else will do it’; when most people consider the private sector in relation to future mobility, the technology sector springs to mind. These firms are only part of a much larger puzzle.  

“The real estate sector has the ability to bring these solutions to the ground — they’re the investors, the change-makers and the property owners who can push growth,” Skinner said. “If we do it piecemeal, we won’t bring about real change. Proper engagement between public and private sectors will allow the real estate sector to offer something to benefit itself and many others beyond.”

All change in the Midlands

The Midlands is arguably leading the future mobility charge in the UK, where there is a real focus on using infrastructure to support growth. The West Midlands Industrial Strategy Consultation document acknowledges the area’s over-reliance on road networks and outlines its aim to be the home of transport innovation in the UK. The Midlands will be the first place in the UK to trial new 5G applications and services at scale, for example, which will be essential for connected vehicles.

WSP is working with Transport for West Midlands to develop the first ‘at scale’ connected and autonomous vehicle corridor test bed between Coventry and Birmingham. The firm is also advising on Mobility 2022, a globally significant new mobility service demonstrator. 

The Midlands is hoping to retain its prominence as the heart of the UK’s industrial and logistics sectors.

“For decades, the Midlands has been the hub for a lot of freight interchange as it evolved to form the heart of our strategic road networks,” Skinner said. “Now there’s interest around the country for other logistics sites as more dispersed logistics models are emerging. Automation for heavy vehicles is on the way. What will that mean for the Midlands and how they adapt to that competition? We need to balance all of these interests if Birmingham and its surroundings are to thrive and reinvent itself for the future.”

If approached correctly, the opportunities presented by future mobility can help many elements of how people live across the UK. Technologies really are hitting the ground thick and fast, so now is the time for real estate to take part in painting the bigger picture.   

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with WSP. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.