When I became Secretary of State for Transport last September, one
thing that struck me early on was the difference in the way that we plan and
invest in our railways compared with our roads. On our railways, we draw up
plans over five year periods, supported by a secure, guaranteed long term
funding stream. And it is thanks to this approach that we were able to announce
last summer the biggest modernisation programme for our railways since the
The contrast with roads, where nothing like that existed, was
stark. The result has been an uncertain, tap-on-tap-off approach to how we
build and maintain our road network. Indeed, the absence of an investment
strategy enabled Labour to shelve more than 100 schemes on coming into
Government. And it is no doubt a significant part of the explanation as to why
on their watch, between 2000 and 2007, Britain was the lowest investor in
infrastructure of all OECD countries.
Today we are announcing a package of reforms that will change all
that. From 2015, England 's roads will benefit from long term funding certainty
and a five year investment strategy. The Highways
Agency, the body responsible for our motorways and trunk roads, will be turned
into a publicly owned company and freed from red tape. And all of these changes
will be backed by law.
The announcement follows on from last month's Spending Review,
where the Government committed to trebling funding for Major Road Schemes by
2020-21 and provided a huge boost for maintenance and potholes – a total
package of £28billion. If that answered the question of 'what are you going to
about our roads?', then todays reforms provide clarity about how we are going
to deliver it.
Firstly, they show beyond doubt that we are absolutely serious
about what is the biggest ever upgrade to the existing network. That is
important because stability of funding will enable us to work with industry to
drive down construction costs, with an expected saving of £600m for the
taxpayer. Secondly, the reforms reduce the bureaucratic burden on the Highways
Agency, allowing them to focus on delivery and to hire the best people. And
thirdly, supporting the reforms with parliamentary legislation will ensure that
future governments can't walk away from our promise.
If that sounds technical or
abstract, I can promise that the results will be there for everyone to see:
England 's network of motorways and trunk roads will get extra lanes, smoother,
quieter surfaces, improved junctions and new sections in key areas.
The previous government badly let the country
down when it comes to infrastructure, and nowhere is that clearer than on our
road network. Under them, the UK fell 26 places down the World Economic Forum's
rankings for infrastructure between 1998 and 2010. Under this government, we
have already climbed nine of those places. And with a bold plan for roads,
complemented by historic investment in rail and a commitment to HS2, expect
that upward trend to continue.