How a world class road, rail and port system serve the UK economy

Wednesday 3rd January 2018




Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport and Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell

Our country and network of transport infrastructure is a living breathing organism. Our roads, railways and ports are the arteries, veins and capillaries of our country’s economy. The health of that system represents our global success, today and in the future.

In recent years, all have faced rising demand and yet, under Labour, much of this important infrastructure faced under-investment and was allowed to wither. By contrast, this Government will spend £61 billion in the five year period to 2020/21, with HS2 and major investments in road and rail, as well as privately financed projects like Heathrow all going ahead. We are investing in our economy through infrastructure.

At the heart of our approach is a plan to make transport work for the people who use it and for the wider economy. Building better connectivity can rebalance the economy, increases productivity and global competitiveness and can unlock housing opportunities. This July, I published the “Transport Investment Strategy”, outlining future priorities and how we aim to achieve them. That complemented the National Infrastructure plan which articulated our vision of what is required to create long-term growth in the UK.

HS2 will play a key role. This July, I confirmed new high speed rail connections between Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and the East Midlands. HS2 will bring a massive economic boost for the north and the Midlands, creating new business opportunities. It will also free up thousands of extra seats and allow for additional services on local lines; for example doubling rush hour seats from Manchester Piccadilly towards Stoke and Crewe; or more seats from Leeds towards Wakefield. It will mean real day-to-day improvements for passengers across the country, regardless of whether they use the new high speed line or not. That is in addition to improvements on the existing rail network across the UK. We are putting £15 billion into the biggest upgrade of our railways since the Victorians.

Connecting the great cities of the north – for example, Leeds and Manchester – is vital as they can and should act as one economic centre. They will grow as we develop the infrastructure to connect the two, enhancing productivity. But for far too long, those cities and others across the North have relied on 40 year old trains. That is why I am proud to be part of a Government that is getting rid of all of those trains, and we are replacing or renewing every train on the Northern and Transpennine franchises and modernising commuter rail lines across the North.

Businesses will also benefit from improved rail freight transport links. It makes the task of shipping goods to customers quick and easy and we can increase productivity by reducing congestion on our roads. But it is not just big projects or upgrading existing routes to smart motorways. Rural towns and villages across England are benefitting, too; soon, they could get a share of a £1 billion fund to build bypasses or make improvements to local roads. We are creating a major roads network of A-roads, helping to relieve congestion and pollution and creating opportunities for new housing. And rail is unlocking the potential for new housing, too. The corridor between Oxford and Cambridge will be revived by East West Rail, helping to deliver Britain’s Silicon Valley.

From our small villages to towns and cities and beyond, our infrastructure is there to support a global outward facing nation. As we get Britain Brexit-ready, we want to show the world that we are open for business and give multinational companies certainty and confidence that they should choose to invest and grow in a healthy Britain. Airport expansion is a big part of showing that we remain globally competitive. That is why I announced Heathrow’s northwest runway as the government’s preferred scheme for airport expansion in the South East and, after a period of public and parliamentary scrutiny, I expect to move to a parliamentary vote in the first half of 2018. We have also recently launched a call for evidence on a new aviation strategy, looking at how the government can support future growth in an industry which directly supports 240,000 jobs and contributes at least £22 billion to the UK economy each year. Making Britain a more attractive place to trade and invest will keep our economy strong for the next generation.

Our shipping ports and maritime sector are booming, as well. Britain remains the leading centre for international maritime business services. In 2017, London again hosts the International Shipping Week, bringing together leaders of the international shipping industry here in the UK.

Despite all of that promise and progress, there are still areas where Labour want to turn back the clock. Rail is just one example. The Labour Party want to see our railways nationalised and, to some, this may seem a seductive idea, but a costly shift back to public ownership would not solve any of the problems. The current system of rail franchising may not be perfect, but with each new franchise awarded, we are securing more benefits for passengers from private operators than ever seen in the dying days of British Rail. Back then, lines were closing and stations being shut down. Now we are re-opening old lines, cutting the ribbon on new stations and, in recent years, have delivered millions of pounds of investment from private firms.

Under privatisation, passenger numbers are increasing, customer satisfaction scores are at a far higher level than in the late 1990s, and there are thousands more additional services per day. But there is more to do, not least given the underinvestment during Labour’s time in office. I have already outlined a plan to bring the operators of train and track closer together; in my experience, passengers do not understand the division between the two, created when we first privatised the railways. I want our railways to be run by one team working together with aligned incentives. They do not have to work for the same company but I have set out a vision for the future, so they will share one goal: the passenger.

There is still much to be done all over the country, and the benefits from complex transport projects are rarely seen overnight. But this Conservative Government is fixing the problems created by Labour’s wasted 13 years, and we will continue to deliver for the whole of the country.

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