After a summer of historic change for Britain and political change in Westminster, the August recess provided a welcome opportunity to focus on my new job. I spent my first few weeks as Transport Secretary travelling around the country, seeing how transport investment is changing Britain for the better, and meeting many of the leaders and decision-makers who drive this great industry.
Things have certainly changed in the decade since I was shadow transport secretary. Back then, we were making the case for large scale investment in transport infrastructure. Now we're actually delivering it. It is inspiring to see that the biggest road programme for a generation and the largest rail modernisation plan since the Victorian era are under way. The Government is spending £13bn on northern transport this Parliament. We are close to completing Crossrail and Thameslink. And next year we start building HS2.
My first responsibility is to provide continuity, to see these massive projects through to completion as quickly and smoothly as possible. As the prime minister has made clear, we will be a government that brings the country together, and helps everyone in our society to get on. Transport has a unique power to do that – improving the links between people and places, bridging the economic gaps between regions, and spreading the benefits of growth. Schemes such as HS2 are vital for the UK's future prosperity, and I will give them the support they need.
Yet we must also seize new opportunities wherever they arise. Britain's vote to leave the European Union provides us with a once in a lifetime chance to reshape our future and boost our standing in the world. Here too, transport has an important contribution to make. While some critics of Brexit claimed it would result in Britain becoming inward looking, in fact the opposite is true. Outside the
EU, investment in our long-term infrastructure has become more important, not less. The continued
growth of our roads and railways will be more integral to our future. And by strengthening our air and maritime links, we can show that the UK is open for business, confident about who we are as a country, and ready to trade with the rest of the world.
That is why, in late July, I was pleased to announce a major expansion of London City Airport, with investment of £344m by the airport's operators. An even more crucial decision awaits on runway capacity in the South East – so among my priorities during August was to meet airports and airlines. This is a decision we must get right, not just for London and the South East, but for the whole of Britain. However, it's also one that we will take as soon as we can.
Big business inevitably has a vital role in helping us plan and construct major transport schemes. But as Transport Secretary I will never lose sight of the fact that we are ultimately accountable to the passenger and everyday transport user: the commuter catching his or her daily train to work; the motorist trying to avoid congestion; the truck driver moving freight for a living; or the retired person taking the bus to the high street. My test for any transport system will be whether it helps Schemes such as HS2 are vital for the UK's future prosperity, and I will give them the support they need people get to their destination safely, efficiently, cleanly and affordably. And where I make changes, I will always seek to act in the traveller's interest.
Of course, I am also aware that new transport schemes can be controversial. Just as there were many people who opposed the building of the first railway nearly two centuries ago, the development of transport infrastructure today can be divisive in affected communities. So it is right that there's discussion about where and when investment takes place. People affected deserve to be heard, and, if appropriate, properly compensated.
But we must not imagine that decisions about transport can be deferred forever, or that the best location for new infrastructure is always just over the horizon. The pressures we face on our roads and railways, with traffic and passengers at record levels and set to increase still further, mean that decisive action is needed.
I am fortunate to be taking over the transport brief from Patrick McLoughlin, who not only did an excellent job making the case for new transport investment and putting those plans into operation – he was also among the longest-serving transport secretaries on record.
My task is to take forward that work by delivering transformational new projects like HS2 and Crossrail, by ensuring we have the airport capacity to meet the country's future needs, by modernising and improving current infrastructure, and by working closely with the industry to put the transport user at the very heart of everything we do.
It's an extraordinary time for transport, and I am excited to be part of it.
Reference: Transport Times September Issue
The Secretary of State will be giving the keynote speech at our conference HS2: Phase One and Beyond on 12 October. Click here to book your place.