UCL News


Regulatory bodies need to brush up on technology

20 March 2006

Experts at an Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) conference today called for better relations between public-sector agencies and technologists, to improve the UK's chances of benefiting from innovation.

"We have to get policymakers to better understand technology," argued Professor Nick Tyler [UCL Civil & Environmental Engineering], conceding that it would be "a huge task". …

To illustrate the dangers of ill-informed policymaking, Tyler described how the rise of retail parks had led to changes in town planning, designed to boost the fortunes of smaller urban retailers. However, he argued that supermarkets had originally quit town centres due to high costs per square foot, and so when forced to focus on smaller Express or Metro outlets, they used technology to redress the cost balance.

Most dispensed with stock rooms to maximise turnover per square foot, relying instead on automated stock control systems and just-in-time delivery.
According to Tyler, the result has been a sharp rise in heavy goods vehicles in town centres, leading to increased emissions and congestion, plus the dangers of blocked bus stops and pedestrian crossings. Parking tickets, he added, do little to dent the economics of the situation.

Tyler conceded that it will take years to improve relations between the two constituencies. Universities must modify courses to encourage a wider view of technology, he argued, and public bodies must concede that regulation is a blunt instrument that can create unintended consequences. "Policymakers should focus on outcomes - they must take a larger and wider view," he said.

Lem Bingley, 'IT Week', 20 March 2006