Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Grayling: A modern transport system that is built to last

Speech to Conservative Spring Forum 2006

"Shortly after I became an MP in 2001, I visited a number of areas in the North of England blighted by the problem just described by Caroline, of empty homes. One of the places we visited was the Kensington district of Liverpool.

What made Kensington so striking and so different was that the houses there weren't the Coronation Street style back to back terraces that were lying empty in the other areas we visited.

These were tall, imposing Victorian houses. If they had been in another part of the country, they would have been sought after and valuable. In Liverpool, they were lying empty.

But there were plans afoot to try to regenerate the area, and one project that local people hoped could make a difference was the Merseytram.

It'll run along the main road just down there, I was told.

Four years later, the first place I visited as Shadow Transport Secretary was that same part of Liverpool.

I wanted to find out why the Merseytram project, so vaunted as a way of regenerating part of one of our great Cities, has now been dropped.

The Government encouraged the City to develop the scheme and promised funding. But after £70 million of up-front spending, which will now have to be paid for by the taxpayers of Liverpool, Alistair Darling said the scheme could not go ahead.

It was just one of a whole series of broken promises by this Government to improve transport in our Cities. Light rail and trams were to be the heart of that transport renaissance. We were promised 25 such systems by 2010.

Enough for a network in all of our major cities.

Today most of those plans are gathering dust in a cupboard, abandoned when Government promises proved to be an illusion.

Of course it hasn't been like that everywhere.

The Metrolink here in Manchester has been a great success story. The first route from Bury to Altrincham took over two old suburban rail lines, and ended up carrying more passengers than the whole of the rest of Manchester's suburban rail network put together.

The Government trumpeted the Metrolink as one of the great early achievements of its transport policy.

Except it was nothing to do with them.

The first tram schemes in this country for half a century were started not by the current Government, not by John Prescott with his integrated transport plan, but by Conservatives when we were in Government.

That's why we can be confident when we talk about the need for transport to play a central part in bringing change, optimism and hope to our Cities.

We knew it then - we know it now.

You've all seen the bits of our Cities that need to be brought back to life. It's not the City Centres.

I remember the run down area round Salford Quays in the early 1980s when I used to get the bus into Central Manchester.

Today you wouldn't recognise it. The area around the waterfront in Manchester and Salford is thriving - just like the centre of Liverpool, or the rejuvenated port area of Bristol, or the docklands of London, or the centre of Birmingham around the Bull Ring and the old canal basin.

Outside our Cities, there's huge amounts of activity too.

What were once small towns are rapidly becoming big urban areas as people move out. You can see it happening all round the North West - in Warrington where I stood as a candidate in 1997, in Northwich, in Middlewich, on the Wirral.

People travel in and out

From home to work, from work to home.

It's the communities in between which have fallen through the cracks. The places Caroline described as the decaying suburbs.

Like the places along what would have been the Merseytram route.

It takes a long time to get into the City Centre from here, by bus, I was told as we followed the route out through the City away from the centre.

People don't have much money and they just don't think to travel in and out of the centre. They end up being cut off from the place where prosperity is returning.

And of course if an area feels run down, people won't stay there - and decline becomes a spiral.

That's why it sometimes takes a big idea to get things going again. And I think that new thinking and new ideas on transport must be a part of our big idea for Britain's cities.

If you look around Europe, you will find smart ideas on urban transport wherever you look. Modern tram systems, guided bus routes, new generation vehicles that look like trams, but run on rubber tyres on the roads - all helping take the pressure off the roads and keeping people on the move.

If we want to encourage people not to move out of our Cities, and in doing so to take the development pressures off some of our country areas, then we have to offer a real reason to stay. Good transport will be absolutely vital to that.

But putting together a smart transport strategy for our Cities and our country isn't just about looking at new ideas and new projects that can make a difference.

It's also about making better use of what we have got.

Getting rid of the bottlenecks that snarl up our roads.

Tackling the problem of overcrowding on so many of our commuter trains.

Dealing with the capacity problems that hamper travel in places like Birmingham, London and here in Manchester.

It's not always the grand projects that make a difference.

Sometimes you get more done if you concentrate on the little things, even though they don't grab the headlines as much as the big announcements.

And that's what's made the past few years so frustrating for travellers in this country.

We've had study after study into how to make things better.

We've had press release after press release unveiling new concepts for travel and new projects.

The latest one was just a few weeks ago.

Double Decker Trains, we were told, are the answer to all our problems. Except there's just one rather big problem - to have double decker trains we'd have to raise every railway bridge in the country - at a cost of billions and billions that the Government has no intention of spending. But it made a good headline.

I spent a morning with council officials in Birmingham a few weeks ago talking about the problems there.

They told me that with a relatively small amount of extra money, they believed they could sort out most of the problems and blockages on the City's major roads. All small schemes - no headlines - but a real solution to their problems.

And it's not as if the money isn't there.

Billions and billions more has been spent in the past few years.

But we've seen very few solutions to our transport problems and very few ideas that will bring new options for our Cities.

Promise after promise has been made and then broken.

We have to change all of this.

We will set out a new agenda for transport.

We'll put forward new ideas for tackling congestion on our roads.

But we'll also put forward ideas on how to make our roads greener

I want us to continue to champion the freedom of the motorist.

But we must also find much better ways to address the environmental impact of our cars.

And we must give people the kind of real choices that will encourage them to leave their cars at home.

In our cities, there is no choice. There just isn't space for everyone to drive everywhere. So a Conservative Party that cares about Cities must also be a Conservative Party that cares about public transport.

And which puts forward smart ideas to improve public transport in our Cities.

We'll work to bring life into those run-down areas of our Cities - and our transport strategy will play a key role in bringing people back to live there.

In a few years time, when we've had the time to do that work, I want to go back to Kensington in Liverpool. I want to walk down those streets where once so many houses were boarded up, and see them bustling with families who have chosen to make their home there.

All of us have a big job to do in making that happen. You've heard from my colleagues about how they will work to tackle crime, deal with healthcare challenges, and build smart development and regeneration strategies.

And we'll need a modern transport system that is built to last - that makes all parts of our Cities a modern place to live again.

What our Cities need is fresh thinking from a new generation Conservative Party.

And that's what we will deliver."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech