Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond today repeated the government’s aim to make the UK a world leader in driverless cars – but said electric ones were the most important priority, with more than half a billion pounds allocated to them, including a £400 million charging infrastructure fund.
In his Budget speech at the House of Commons this afternoon, Hammond said of driverless vehicles: “I know Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t like them.
“But there are many other good reasons to pursue this technology, so today we step up our support for it.
“Our future vehicles will be driverless, but they’ll be electric first, and that’s a change that needs to come as soon as possible.
“So we’ll establish a new £400 million charging infrastructure fund, invest an extra £100 million in Plug-In-Car Grant, and £40 million in charging R&D.”
Returning to the subject of Clarkson, he added: “Sorry Jeremy, not the first time you've been snubbed by Hammond and May."
The government has promised to develop "the most advanced regulatory framework for driverless cars in the world."
Initially, it is believed that an amendment to the Road Traffic Act may permit manufacturers to test fully autonomous vehicles on the country’s roads, with approval given on a case-by-case basis.
Lord Adonis, the Labour peer and former Transport Secretary who is now chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said investment was needed to make roads suitable for the cars of the future.
He said: “Once the preserve of sci-fi, the driverless car is now tantalisingly close and as companies spend billions developing these new vehicles, we need to turn our attention to the roads they appear on."
On Sunday, Hammond said that driverless cars would be on Britain’s roads by 2021, but confessed he had not ridden in one – something he planned to rectify on a visit to the West Midlands earlier this week.
However, according to the Daily Telegraph, the idea was vetoed by Number 10 due to the potential for the photo-opportunity to give rise to headlines about the government itself being ‘driverless’.
In response to the Budget speech, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn said the government was “investing in driverless cars after months of road-testing back seat driving in government.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no specific mention in the Budget of cycling.
Earlier this week, the Department for Transport announced a new £1.7 billion Transforming Cities Fund to create better links between city centres and suburban areas, though again, with no reference to the role cycling might play within that.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.