Building better roads

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

As part of our long term economic plan, we are investing in improving the UK's essential infrastructure by building a better road network.

Good morning.

I’d like to thank Mark for those kind words of introduction.

It’s fantastic to see so many people here today (9 July 2014).

Britain has come through one of toughest periods for generations.

Now the British economy is back and firing on all cylinders.

Business confidence growing, jobs are being created at record rate and car sales are up 27 months on the trot.

Looking ahead our population is growing.

So we know one thing for sure to keep the economy moving, people and goods are going need to keep travelling.

More people, more drivers.

Not a surprise.

That’s obvious to every driver today.

But what hasn’t changed for decades is the government response.

Putting off investment, ignoring the problem.

That’s meant more congestion.

More unreliable journeys.

More time wasted stuck in traffic.

We simply cannot afford to continue this way

The road network is the backbone of Britain. 95% of people use it every day.

Road use infographic.

So it is vital to our economy.

Vital to all our lives.

Yet nothing’s really changed for years – we’ve just been managing decline.

But things are going to change.

We’re on the verge of a revolution in road travel.

So big will this change be that today we have little conception of what our roads will be like 30 years time.

But if we want an effective, reliable road network in the decades ahead, we must start preparing for change right now. And that means we have to meet 3 major challenges.

First, seizing potential of new technology.

Second, building better infrastructure.

And, third, reforming the way we maintain and pay for roads.

Let me take each in turn.

Better technology

That technology is changing everything is said a lot.

But that doesn’t make it any less true.

And it can help us manage the increasing demands on our roads better.

Already some estimates suggest that the use of real time mapping on smart phones is saving 1 billion hours of travel time and 3.5 billion litres of fuel a year.

Better technology means we can use existing road space far more efficiently.

For example, we can safely use 4 lanes on the M1 instead of 3.

And we will build 240 mile long smart motorway corridor stretching from Cheshire to Kent.

Looking further ahead, intelligent transport systems, like the driverless cars being pioneered in Oxford and California where vehicles and infrastructure communicate automatically, have the potential to cut congestion, cut emissions and improve safety.

We are changing that and looking at how technology can drive the transform the everyday driving experience.

The road investment strategy won’t have all the answers.

But it will raise our ambitions and put us on a path to technology playing its full role in a transformation of the strategic road network.

Building better

The second challenge, is meeting people’s rising expectations, both for the quality of our infrastructure and the impact of construction on the environment.

Take High Speed 2 for example.

It will be the biggest construction project in Europe. But it will also be the biggest conservation programme, for example, we’ll be planting 4 million trees.

People tend to think of road building as destructive. But it’s not always that simple.

Take the motorway network.

More than 1 million broadleaf trees were planted during construction in the 1970s. That’s more than the forestry commission planted across the entire country at the time.

So we need to get better at explaining carefully that improving our road network isn’t just about speeding up journeys at any cost.

It’s about creating a network that works better for communities and the environment too.

Cheaper, smarter lighting that comes on when it is needed. Cutting light pollution but not at the cost of reducing safety.

Building green bridges, more tunnelling and better noise barriers that will help blend roads much better into the landscape.

Delivering on our commitments to achieve our environmental objectives, including on air quality with an approach that allows us to continue to improve our infrastructure.

Taken together, this is an opportunity for the UK to be a cradle for road innovation. With the skills, talent and expertise at the cutting edge of construction that can be commercialised and exported.

Better value-for-money

The final challenge is to get the best value for money possible from the £24 billion we are investing.

That means doing things differently.

Take cutting congestion.

We no longer need to build an entirely new road or widen the full length of an existing one.

We have much better data on traffic flows.

That enables us to target improvements where they will make the biggest difference.

The pinch points programme is showing how removing a blockage in one area helps traffic flow smoother many miles away.

I know the recent ICE State of the Nation report highlighted the challenges facing local roads.

That’s why we’re also investing in the local road network. Almost £4 billion for maintenance from 2011 to 2015.

That’s significantly more than in the previous 4 year period.

But we’re also changing the way we make that investment.

In the past, the £200 million pothole fund would have simply been handed out to each council.

But we knew that good councils could make each pound go further.

That’s why we asked local authorities to show how they would use the money to benefit their residents.

Some authorities know how to get the best from what they’ve got more than others, and how to spend taxpayers’ money efficiently.

We applied the same principle to the £2 billion of Local Growth schemes announced on Monday.

The ones that were funded were those that will create the most benefit for the local economy.

And it is because we are absolutely determined to get the best value for money, that’s why we are reforming the Highways Agency.

The agency will have the freedom and flexibility it needs to drive value for money and we are putting an end to stop-start investment.

The new company will be backed by a commitment to provide the funding that we have allocated.

It is a legal commitment that will prevent changes being made at short notice on a whim.

It is the same commitment that we have provided for the railway.

And it is a commitment that will give you the confidence you need to invest and grow your businesses.

Supply chain

Because this isn’t just about us.

It’s a challenge and an opportunity for the supply chain too.

To make this a reality, we need more of the right people, with the right skills employed in the long term.

That means more skilled workers, attracting more graduates, and providing even more apprenticeships.

You are the experts.

You understand how fast it is changing.

I want to hear from you, by the autumn, what you think is needed so the supply chain and government can collectively deliver the forthcoming transformational investment.

So to sum up, thanks to the hard work of many people in this room Britain’s roads are among the safest in Europe.

And that’s something we need to maintain and improve.

But despite your best efforts, a legacy of under investment, means they are also among the most congested.

Together we’re going to change that.

The public don’t expect us to put an end to every traffic jam.

They know we can’t promise an end to road works.

What we’re doing is making a long-term, sustained investment, in building a better network.

A road network that works.

That’s smarter, more reliable, with faster, better road works and one that works for our economy, society and the environment.

I am very confident that with the skills and expertise of everyone in this room together we will make it happen.

Thank you for listening.