Ladies and gentlemen, as we’re all acutely aware, this is the last time the Conservative Party will come together in one place, on this scale, before we face the awesome challenge of a general election.
We are ready for change. This country is ready for change. And after 12 years of Labour we urgently need change.
These are times of great anxiety. There’s an economic crisis with massive government debt and devastating levels of unemployment. There’s an environmental crisis with climate change threatening our whole planet. And there’s a political crisis with people angry that they have so little power over big decisions that affect their lives.
Think of all that and then think about transport.
If we’re going to fix our economy we need a high quality transport system. If we’re going to get to grips with climate change we’ve got to make transport cleaner and greener. And if we’re going to give people real power over the things that matter we’ve got to address the sense of powerlessness and frustration they feel in the face of daily disruption to the travel network.
Our mission is simple: to make transport safer, greener, more reliable and better value for money.
And we also need to get serious about reducing the infuriating and unnecessary hassle that so often blights the daily commute of millions of people, because, let’s face it, the misery and anger that so often come with just trying to get from A to B in this country play a big part in making life under Labour feel so grim.
Take air and rail travel. Let there be no doubt whatsoever: if the Conservatives are elected to serve this country as its Government there will be no third runway at Heathrow.
There comes a point when stuffing more and more flights into the same overcrowded corner of the south of England starts to impose an unacceptably high cost to our environment and to our quality of life.
When it comes to new runways at Heathrow it’s time to say “thus far and no further”. Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger.
With our plans for high speed rail that’s exactly what will happen. Last year I promised you that we’d build a high speed rail line to Manchester and Leeds. That would provide an attractive lower carbon alternative to thousands of flights. Freeing up those landing slots will produce a much better and more resilient Heathrow but without the devastating damage a third runway would inflict.
And our high speed rail plans would also provide a huge boost for regeneration and jobs, not just in this city but across the Pennines in Leeds as well.
And don’t be fooled by Labour’s stumbling efforts to follow our lead. Their proposals don’t yet limp past Birmingham. We are the Party that is committed to bringing high speed rail to the north of England. We will keep the promise we have made.
And we’ll combine our plans for high speed trains with equally radical ideas for today’s rail network to make the rail industry accountable to the passengers it is there to serve because in the end this is all about passenger power, about people power.
And we need to apply some of that people power to our busiest transport network of all our roads.
Remember: it’s not just car journeys we’re talking about here. The food on our table, the clothes on our back, the shoes on our feet, before it gets to us virtually every item any of us will ever use or consume during our entire lifetime will have spent time in a lorry or a van pounding along the UK’s overstretched road network.
Our roads are pivotal to our economic competitiveness and with the public finances under such huge strain it becomes more important than ever that we make the best possible use of this precious and limited resource.
Now it’s true that difficult decisions will always have to be made on how road space is divided up, particularly if we’re to deliver the priority measures that can make such a big difference to improving life for bus passengers and cyclists. But there’s so much more that could be done which could reduce driver hassle without treating other road users unfairly.
What about the miles of traffic jams caused by road works where no one is actually bothering to do any work? Or the traffic lights which spring up for no apparent reason or stay green for just a couple of seconds? Or the fact that a whole regional economy can be paralysed time and again because it takes hours and hours to re-open a motorway after a collision or an incident?
Let’s face it, these kinds of issues are never going to grab the headlines or set the world on fire, but you know what? They matter. They matter to our economy and to our quality of life. And we need a Government that’s finally going to do something about them.
We need, ladies and gentlemen, to follow the lead set by a Conservative Mayor of London who is already doing just that.
Our methods for delivering change are clear. Firstly, we need decentralisation. So when local authorities want to innovate and try out new ways to make traffic flow more smoothly they’ll get encouragement from Whitehall not the stonewalling and inflexibility for which Labour’s Department for Transport is notorious. So Boris will get to try out his ideas on cyclists turning left on a red light and he won’t have to wait years to get the go ahead.
And we’ll stop the bullying tactics this Government has used to try to push through congestion charging. It was Labour’s flagship policy for the roads but when the people of this great city had their say 78% voted no.
Secondly, we need transparency. So we’ll work with the police to get the full facts on motorway clear-up times, so we can be certain that everything is being done that reasonably can be done to minimise delays.
And as for the epidemic of new traffic lights, don’t get me wrong I’m not calling for some drastic cull, but, given the huge impact they can have on traffic flow and on pedestrian safety, is it too much to ask for those in charge of traffic lights to publish clear criteria, based on evidence, to determine where they go and how they’re timed?
So if a new set of lights starts clogging up your high street you can find out why, you can hold those responsible to account and - whether you are a pedestrian, a cyclist or a driver - you can have a say on whether those lights stay or whether they go.
And, thirdly, we need accountability. For a start, we’ll make the people who dig up our roads answer for their actions. We’ll crack down on anyone who takes an irresponsible approach to road works without regard for the travel misery they can cause.
That means bigger fines for work that overruns. And for our busiest most important routes, it means making the utilities pay to rent the road space they dig up. So they finally have a real incentive to run their work efficiently and minimise the disruption that can impact on all road users: drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. It’s a simple idea, it’s been discussed for years, nothing else has worked: it’s time to get on with it.
But there’s another group that must be made accountable, and that’s the cowboy clampers to which so many of us have fallen victim at one time or another. At the moment they too can act with impunity. Well I have a simple message for the rogue operators who use intimidation to extort huge fines from hapless drivers: a Conservative Government would put the cowboy clampers out of business.
And lastly, ladies and gentlemen, there’s one more issue I’d like to address because tackling the kind of irritations I’ve outlined isn’t enough. We need to make our roads safer as well.
Britain used to have the safest roads in the world, but not any more. And what is Labour’s favourite policy weapon here? You all know what I’m talking about, those grey and yellow boxes that have sprung up on streets and highways up and down the land – fixed speed cameras.
Under Labour they’ve almost trebled. The truth is the fines they generate are blinding Labour to the proven merits of other better ways to keep our roads safe: like education, like vehicle activated signs, like traffic police.
That’s why I can today announce a major shift in road safety policy. A change to a much broader approach that judges the alternatives objectively on the basis of their effectiveness in saving lives not the fines they generate.
Ladies and gentlemen, a Conservative Government would not fund any new fixed speed cameras because they are not the best way to make our roads safer. If local authorities want new cameras they’ll have to prove nothing else works better and they’ll have to find the money themselves.
We’ll abolish Labour’s camera quangos and expose speed cameras to real democratic control. That means publishing the information that’s now kept secret on each speed camera’s record on safety and on fines, so local communities can judge for themselves whether a camera should stay or whether it should go.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that fixed speed cameras have reached their high watermark in this country. It’s time to put a stop to Labour’s cash cow camera culture. Electing a Conservative Government would signal the end of the relentless expansion of fixed speed cameras. It’s time to say, ‘enough is enough’.