Chris Grayling is MP for Epsom and Ewell, and Secretary of State for Transport. This column is the full text of a speech delivered in Manchester last weekend.
“Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to this conference today. I particularly wanted to come and talk to you today because it’s quite clear that Labour intend to make Transport a battle in this area and across the North – and I am not going to let them get away with spreading untruths and misrepresenting the progress we are making.
Let me start by saying that I know a bit about transport in the North West. I wrote my University dissertation on the way in which the first transport improvements in and around Manchester drove the growth of the City. I did my research in Manchester Central Library after getting the bus in from Worsley each morning. I used to live less than 20 miles from here, under the flight path into and out of the airport. I have been travelling up and down the M6 since I was eight weeks old to my family’s home area in Lancashire. And I am now a fairly regular visitor to the red side of this City on a Saturday afternoon – though not today as United are playing away to Stoke later.
And let me be clear, I am proud to be Transport Secretary in a Government that is in the middle of implementing the biggest transport investment programme in the north west for decades.
Yet you might not believe it from what Andy Burnham has been saying recently, but it’s true.
I want to tell you why he is spreading fake news. .
And I want to make sure that you are well equipped to challenge him and our Labour opponents on their untruths.
Let me start with the headline stories.”
Our record of investment in the North
“The Labour-supporting IPPR North think tank keeps claiming that we spend far more in the South than in the North. But their figures are completely wrong. Let me give you just one example.
One of the most important new transport schemes completed by this Government is the new link road between the M6 and Heysham, unlocking a part of the economy of North Lancashire which has been held back by poor infrastructure. It was promoted and secured by David Morris and Eric Ollerenshaw, delivered by Lancashire County Council, but almost entirely funded by this Conservative Government.
Because it was a locally driven project rather than a national scheme, it and scores of schemes like it aren’t counted in the IPPR’s figures. But the road is completed and serving the people and businesses of north Lancashire.
The reality is that when you include those centrally funded and locally delivered projects, we are spending more per head on transport in the North West than we are in the South East. And believe me, as a South East MP I get the grief from my own councillors.
This isn’t about a difference in how you account for spending… lets look at outcomes, what we are actually delivering….
29 road schemes completed and we have a further 16 underway.
The biggest upgrade of railways in the north since the steam age.
Better connections for our regional airports, opening up global possibilities for the local economy
Let me start with the roads.
That Heysham link.
The new link road between the M56 and the M6 near my old home in Cheshire.
The smart motorway schemes and widening schemes on the M60, the M6 and the M62.
And the schemes that are on the way.
The Whitehaven relief road.
Dualling the rest of the A66 so that we create another proper route across the Pennines to link our great northern economic centres.
The Mottram Moor Link Road. To help meet that Transpennine challenge.
The A5036 Princess Way access to the Port of Liverpool.
The vital bypass on the A585 at Fleetwood
Part of the biggest road building programme that this region has seen for a very long time.
In the next few months I will be starting work on another dimension of that programme. The by-pass fund – spending up to a billion pounds a year on local and regional schemes that will address problems in the places that get missed out at the moment – like the market towns on the edge of a city like Manchester that Labour don’t care about.”
Labour’s failure in office to invest in northern transport
“And the cheek of Andy Burnham and the Labour party. In 13 years in office Labour cancelled more road schemes than they actually completed.
That’s right. They cancelled more schemes than they actually completed.
We aren’t just announcing these projects, we are working with local authorities to deliver them
Then there’s the trains.
During the summer Andy Burnham claimed that we were doing nothing to improve the railways of the north.
Let me give you one statistic that he should bear in mind before he makes such outlandish claims again – on the topic of the moment, electrification. And I’ll talk a bit about our strategy on that in a moment.
Since 2010 at a time of financial challenges we have electrified nearly three times more miles of railway within Greater Manchester alone than Labour did in thirteen years of office, when the money flowed freely.
Three times as much railway electrified in Greater Manchester than in the whole country when Labour was in Government.
The government Andy Burnham was part of. So we should take no lessons at all from Manchester’s new metro mayor about our record in Government.”
Our biggest modernisation programme of railways in the north since the steam age
“And here’s the truth on the railways of the north.
This Government has launched the biggest modernisation programme of railways in the north since the steam age. An age that started here in the North.
It includes better infrastructure now, new trains, more services, more seats and bold plans to carry on that expansion for the future.
Let’s start with the trains.
You know those old Pacer trains. The hideous old noisy one car trains that were built on the cheap in British Rail days. They have no place on a modern railway. And so they are off to the scrap yard. By 2019 all of them will be being cut up for recycling, to be replaced by the kind of modern replacements that this region needs so badly. This isn’t a promise, this is already happening.
Under the new Northern Rail and Transpennine franchises every single train in the North West – some of the oldest carriages in the country – will be replaced or refurbished.
And there will be more of them, so there are more seats and more carriages for commuters into Manchester in the rush hour.
Plus there will be more services and new services. Not just here in Greater Manchester, but in more far flung parts of the North West.
Trudy Harrison, our excellent new MP for Copeland, stopped me in the corridor in a mood of excitement recently when she discovered that the Cumbrian Coast line is going to get a Sunday service for the first time.
These are real improvements for real people, and they are things that Labour never bothered to introduce in their long years in office, so it’s laughable that Burnham and his colleagues now criticise our party for lack of progress, what have they to show for 13 years in office?
They never understood our railways and they never will.
Then there are the radical happening now to some of the oldest train tracks in the world.
About three hundred million pounds on improving the suburban rail network around Liverpool alone – improving junctions, replacing signals, straightening track, all so the City gets a better, more efficient, 21st century commuter rail service. Something Labour never did.
Here in Manchester, a world-class piece of engineering in the construction of the Ordsall chord to finally connect Piccadilly and Victoria.
The Victorians didn’t do it. And Labour certainly didn’t. We can, we are, we have.
So let’s not hear any rhetoric from Labour about us not caring for Manchester.”
Manchester’s Piccadilly Station…and railway electrification
“Let me say a couple of things about the issues Andy Burnham is making a noise about at the moment.
Firstly the expansion of Piccadilly station. I can’t say much about it now because it is part of a judicial planning process. But suffice to say this.
My ambitions for the link for the Piccadilly to Victoria link, and the route through Oxford Road – so vital for the connections between much of the North West and the Airport – are to do more than is currently planned to allow more services through Manchester, and I am to say more shortly.
Then there is the question of electrification. Our programme of electrification is continuing, and soon we will have electrified not three times, but dozens of times more railway than Labour did. That means more electrification in and around Manchester and across the Pennines.
But people have got to stop only thinking about how a train is powered, and focus instead on getting the best possible improvement for passengers. And what delivers better journey times is actually the way you upgrade the tracks and the signalling.
If you take the case of the Midland Main Line, we have an ambitious modernisation plan in place for between now and 2020. We will add two extra tracks for part of the route. We will put in place better signalling. We are working on straightening the curves on the route right now, so that trains can run faster. We are buying brand new 125 mile an hour hybrid/bi-mode electric trains for the route. We will electrify those parts of the route where it will make the biggest difference. And by doing all of that we will reduce the journey time from London to Sheffield by 20 minutes in the peak.
It will be the biggest set of improvements to journeys on that route since the 1970s. Improvements that passengers can see and feel. Easier and more comfortable and quicker journeys.
But then if I want to electrify the whole route, every inch of the way, it will cost me nearly a billion pounds more than our current plan and it will save one extra minute on the journey time to Sheffield. Yes that’s right. A billion pounds to save one minute. How many people would think that should be a transport priority for us.
The thing that makes the difference is the arrival of a new generation of bi-mode, hybrid trains. Like hybrid cars they can run on electricity or diesel or for that matter battery or hydrogen . And they switch seamlessly between different technologies
We’re bringing these trains to the Great Western mainline to Penzance. To the East Coast Mainline to Aberdeen. To cross-country routes in East Anglia. Even to the tram system in Birmingham.
And to Manchester, to this City, in 2019. Brand new trains running from Liverpool to Hull. On electric tracks where they are present. Using diesel when they are not. Which passenger is worried about the power supply? It’s the train and the timetable that matters. And this Conservative government will deliver the improved journey times promised.
And of course there are plenty of electric tracks for them to run on. We’ve just completed the electrification between Liverpool and Manchester. That route alone is twice as long as Labour managed in all their years in Government. We’re electrifying Manchester’s suburban railways, because that makes a real difference for commuters.
And we will crack on shortly with the modernisation of the Transpennine railway line. With straighter tracks. Faster journey times. And electrification.
But ask this question. If the trains can run seamlessly in diesel and electric, do we really need to cause disruption and close the Standedge tunnel for weeks to put wires through it, as we did with the Severn Tunnel, if the trains can run through it anyway.
I want to put the passenger first, and use the newest, best smartest technology to disrupt their lives as little as possible. That’s the bit that Labour don’t understand.”
The North doesn’t need more of Labour
“And the Labour position on transport modernisation is just hypocrisy.
They have been telling us that we are doing nothing. And yet they are sitting at the table with us, in Transport for the North, planning the detail of this modernisation programme. We are waiting for them to offer us solutions/ deliver their proposals. Because the future of transport in the north should be too important an issue to become a political football.
They are also sitting beside us planning the detail of Northern Powerhouse Rail. A commitment to the north that was in our manifesto.
But you would never guess from their rhetoric that they are working with us on this exciting future. But that’s what we are dealing with.
People who want us to work with them, and invest with them – but want to be free to accuse us of doing nothing at the same time. Just hypocrisy. And typical Labour.
Which is why the North needs Conservatives more than ever.
To shape a future which will bring HS2 to Manchester. A project that will join up North and South – but equally importantly will create thousands of extra seats on commuter trains south of Manchester and will help take lorries off our roads and onto the existing railway.
One of the biggest transport infrastructure projects happening anywhere in the world right now, all conceived to help build connectivity in and to the north.
A future that will continue to see the transformation of the road network in the north.
A future that will see the biggest modernisation of rail in the North since the steam age.
Not to mention the private sector’s ambitious plans for Manchester Airport’s new terminal, and ours for more links to an expanded Heathrow.
What the North doesn’t need is more of Labour.
Their track record speaks for itself.
More cancelled roads than new roads.
Barely enough electrification to get from Piccadilly to the Manchester boundary – across the whole country.
Tough decisions like the expansion of Heathrow and the potential links to Manchester abandoned.
And now they have the nerve to claim that they are the only ones who care.
And together we have to show them up for the fake news merchants that they are.”