I am delighted to be asked to give the introduction to what I hope will be a long-standing series of annual lectures from the Independent Transport Commission. It is particularly appropriate that this inaugural event is being kindly hosted here, at the world-famous Science Museum.
The UK’s global reputation was built in the 18th and 19th centuries on the bedrock of innovation in science, technology and transport. Around us at this wonderful museum we can see many of the world’s leading innovations in travel, from George Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive to Britain’s most successful solar powered racing car, designed by students from South Bank University - a truly unique collection of science and technology comparable with any in the world. Innovations in travel and science have enabled us to move and communicate in ways that have brought the world closer together, and opened up connections that hitherto were thought impossible. We all should be very proud of the role Britain and British science has played in these advances, from the railways to the world wide web.
We need today to build on this reputation and look to the future if the UK is going to remain at the forefront of global innovation. Such innovation will be the driver for economic growth and help to improve the nation’s prosperity. The Department for Transport is committed to playing its role in encouraging innovation and growth. We are investing in a growth-promoting, world-class transport system through projects such as High Speed Rail, Crossrail as well as major investment in our roads, cycleways and airports. And we also have an eye firmly fixed on the medium to long term future, driving innovation through our support of R&D in low carbon vehicles, driverless vehicle technology, the detection of threats to transport and cyber networks – to name just a few.
More generally, we are well aware that the increasing digitisation of transport services will present enormous opportunities to us. For example, we are already making good progress on moving our agencies, such as the DVLA, to a world of digital by default, giving customers a truly 21st century service.
Fresh thinking about our travel needs is always welcome, and I am therefore grateful to the Independent Transport Commission for launching this series. I would like to pay tribute to the wide range of research and educational work that the ITC carries out and welcome ITC’s work in helping us understand how best we should plan for travel in the future.
This new lecture series is, I am told, designed to encourage us to think about the future of travel and transport in fresh ways, and in that respect the subject for this inaugural event, of the prospects for fusion energy and its effect on transport, is particularly important.
We all recognise the importance of decarbonised energy sources for transport within the overall energy mix, in terms of reducing climate change impacts; improving air quality; and increasing resilience of energy supply.
Quite clearly, the increased use of electricity already underpins many transport developments, both on road and rail. The generation of this electricity is critical to its wider impacts and we need a broad approach. That’s mainly for colleagues in DECC but DfT has a clear interest.
One source is biofuels. The “food versus fuel” and “indirect land use change” debates have highlighted some problems with biofuels and we are working hard to ensure these are properly addressed at a European level. But biofuels have an important role in tackling climate change and may even continue to be needed in a fusion future, for example, for aviation and heavy goods vehicles.
So this seminar comes at an opportune moment, and it is a huge privilege to be able to welcome today (18 June 2013) 2 such distinguished guest lecturers. Professor Stephen Cowley will be well known to you as the Chief Executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. The research that Stephen directs at Culham is a great example of Britain leading the world in the investigation of the prospects for nuclear fusion energy. The prospect of an unlimited supply of carbon-neutral energy would clearly revolutionise our energy situation and offers the holy grail of cheap, carbon-free energy.
How would this affect the way we operate our transport network? Would we move towards electrification of travel more swiftly? What might our travel look like? And would the prospect of cheaper transport mean that we will want to travel more and more? It is a fascinating question.
I am delighted that we are welcoming also today (18 June 2013) Professor Richard Parry-Jones CBE to consider these issues. Richard, as many of you know, is another world-leading thinker in science and technology, having headed up global research and development at Ford Motor Company, and now, through his valuable work as Chairman of Network Rail. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers and Co-Chairman of the UK Automotive Council. Richard’s understanding of the transport world is second to none.
I hope that this inaugural ITC lecture will be the first of many. And so, without further ado, I would like to hand over to our distinguished speakers.