The last few weeks have seen residents of Malvern, the home of the Festival of Innovation, gripped by a divisive proposal; that of building a cable car from the town of Great Malvern up the steep slopes of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the highest point in Worcestershire.
Those for the scheme cite the economic benefits that such an infrastructure project would bring to the town. It might provide a new activity for tourists, it would facilitate access for all onto the Hills, and it would create jobs and spin-off opportunities. Those against fear a ruining of unspoilt vistas, damage to wildlife and the creep of other buildings onto the Hills, an area protected by a unique historic Act of the UK Parliament.
Not to be drawn one way or another, this debate highlights one key aspect of innovation: that of change. Change is always met with resistance as it upsets the status quo. People have things to gain and to lose; the balance of power shifts, and the real outcome is generally unpredictable. Disruptive innovation, be it an idea, a concept, a device or a process, creates antagonism and concern. It also creates opportunities.
Sometimes, proposed solutions to problems can lead to other more compelling ideas. To me the idea of a cable car per se is not particularly creative, as it has been done before in many places, and the aerial structures they require can be rather ugly. As an example, one alternative suggestion has been made from residents to reintroduce donkey rides up the Hills; these are a green form of transport and have a quirkiness about them that sits well in the town! A bit retrograde, however.
So I think we can do better still. What about trialling a fleet of green all-electric (or hydrogen fuel cell) autonomous vehicle that does not require a cable in the first place? Despite the wilderness, the Malvern Hills are unusual because there is actually a narrow tarmac track via a shallower inclined route to the summit. It would make a great rural testbed for the technology that is now being trialled in some of our major cities.
Adrian Burden, Festival Founder
BBC reports the plans for a cable car in Malvern, and then shortly afterwards their dismissal!