Campaign to Protect Rural England annual lecture on transport and the countryside
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport.
It’s a great pleasure to be here with you in this extraordinary museum.
A place that shows us how transport built London.
From the world’s first underground trains in the 19th century.
To the Routemaster bus in the 20th.
And the cablecars and Boris bikes of today. Transport is what makes London tick.
So it’s easy to see why people sometimes think transport only matters to big cities.
Well I know – and you know – they’re wrong.
I know, because I represent the Derbyshire Dales in Parliament.
I believe I’m the first Secretary of State for Transport with a really rural constituency since John MacGregor in the early 1990s.
And I’m afraid you are going to hear quite a lot about it today.
Derbyshire Dales is not just the most beautiful part of the midlands.
It’s the back garden for half the cities in England.
Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham - all just a short trip away.
They put huge pressure on our rural transport system.
But transport doesn’t just matter for visitors.
It’s a necessary part of country life, too.
The further you are from towns, services, jobs and friends, the more important transport becomes.
That’s why rural Britain needs good transport just as much as urban Britain.
In fact it always has.
Look at a map of stagecoach routes for Derbyshire in the 18th century and you’ll also be looking at a map of bus and car routes today.
And there’s another thing that’s just as evident in rural life today as it was in the past.
Fear of change.
Take my local branch line from Derby which ends at Matlock.
Before 1968, this was a busy mainline from Derby to Manchester.
In that year, Barbara Castle made the mistake of closing the route between Matlock and Manchester.
Today we regret that closure.
But a century ago, when it was first built, people protested.
When Headstone Viaduct was built through Monsal Dale, John Ruskin said:
“The valley is gone! Now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour. And every fool at Bakewell in Buxton.”
Then, as now, you’ll always find people ready to question whether we need more capacity, or better links.
But the truth is, we did then.
And we do today.
Much has happened in the intervening years.
But the fundamental requirements of our economy are exactly the same.
We need better transport to connect people with the workplace and goods with the marketplace.
And it’s not enough to close our eyes to the fact.
By the way, Ruskin was wrong.
Beautiful Monsal Dale not only survived the construction of the line.
It was enhanced.
The viaduct is now a listed structure and the old railway has become the Monsal Trail.
It’s so popular even I have cycled on it.
And it’s just the sort of thing I’d like to see more of.
So if you accept that we need good transport to live our lives and expand our economy then two questions come to mind.
How do you provide it so that rural people can benefit too?
And how can you make sure the beauty of Britain doesn’t suffer?
These aren’t easy questions to answer.
It seems to me that there are a couple of ways to look at them.
Either you try to freeze progress, put up with what you have got already…
…and condemn rural Britain to a nasty mix of stagnation and congestion.
Or you can be confident, see transport as a good thing…
…and do what it takes to make sure that transport helps the countryside, not harms it.
Cars and community transport
And that takes me directly to cars.
For many people, cars are rural transport – and dare I say it, that includes many CPRE members too.
So I’m not apologetic about supporting drivers, rural garages, rural roads.
And rural Post Offices, too.
With today’s good news that the DVLA’s new £450 million, seven-year contract will stay with them.
Now I know that running a vehicle has become more expensive.
Particularly in rural regions where people have fewer options and tend to do higher mileages.
But it’s not just the cost of rural driving that matters.
Cars have a growing impact on the countryside too. Rural traffic is rising fast.
And that’s affecting the tranquillity of the countryside.
So while I want people to be free to drive…
…I also want to protect what they come to the countryside to enjoy.
That means ideas like the “quiet lanes” we have in Derbyshire…
…and it means making sure there are good alternatives to driving too.
A lot of rural people and visitors don’t have access to a car, or don’t want to drive.
So we have got to help rural bus services, and support alternatives like community transport.
We’re keeping the concessionary travel scheme which allows older and disabled people to travel for free on local bus services after the morning peak.
We’re developing a new approach to subsidising buses.
We’re putting £600 million into the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
And we’ve also increased funding to boost community transport.
Community rail, in particular, has been a great success.
Rural branch lines – the lucky ones that survived Dr Beeching – have shown outstanding growth.
From the St Ives Bay line, just over four miles long…
…to the 88-mile route along the Cumbrian Coast…
…. and my local line through Duffield to Matlock, too.
So transport plays a fundamental role in the rural economy.
But there’s something else I want to talk about today.
How the countryside looks.
Too many country roads carry a reminder of how insensitive planners can be to aesthetics.
Ugly and unnecessary signs clutter up the network.
New signs seem to sprout like weeds, without any apparent consideration of what’s already there.
Often what we’re left with is not just a blot on the landscape.
It’s confusing and potentially dangerous too.
There are those ‘temporary’ signs saying “New Road Layout Ahead” that are left to rot for years.
Or near me in Derbyshire there’s an ugly big sign by a beautiful medieval church that just says: “no footpath”.
It’s on a small country lane.
Of course there isn’t a path.
We don’t need a huge sign to tell us that.
So I’m determined to do more to sort this out.
We had a traffic signs review in 2011, and we’ve relaxed rules that used to insist on two signs by the road side when one would do.
And we’re working on revised traffic signs regulations.
The combined effect of these changes will be to give authorities and designers much greater freedom to simplify and use fewer signs at country junctions.
And I want to make sure that they use it.
So my message today to highways engineers is: if in doubt, don’t do it.
Save your money for something that really matters.
Something, for instance, like road safety.
Last year, around two-thirds of fatal traffic accidents happened on rural roads.
So we’re looking at ways to give councils a greater say over speed limits.
For example, creating 40 mph zones in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
I’m grateful to the CPRE for responding to the consultation.
And we’ll issue guidance by the end of the year.
HS2 and the countryside
Now, I’ve spoken about some of the immediate challenges facing rural transport.
But it’s also my job to prepare our country for the long term.
Over the next 30 years, for instance, passenger demand for rail is set to double…
…while vehicle traffic will rise rapidly too, especially outside cities.
As a country, we are travelling more and more.
Yet many of our roads and railways are already overcrowded.
We have a railway system conceived in the 19th century straining to support a 21st century economy.
That’s why I want to get cracking on High Speed Two.
Not just to get faster journeys.
But to free up space on the rest of the network.
To get freight onto rail, and trucks off our roads.
Now I know it’s controversial.
Some people here today will oppose the line strongly.
And I respect that.
But I also want you to hear the case for going ahead.
My argument today is that we need good transport and more of it.
So the question is how we provide it.
I think HS2 is the right way to do it for our countryside as well as our cities.
High speed, high capacity stations in city centres will encourage new housing and business on brownfield sites.
That means fewer big new roads through the countryside and less urban and suburban sprawl.
As the CPRE’s vision for 2026 makes clear, the sustainable cities will preserve and energise rural England.
Put it another way: a better Manchester and a better Sheffield can also mean a better Peak District.
But our objective with HS2 is not just to make sure it isn’t just the south-east that benefits from growth.
It’s also to deliver it in the most responsible way.
Historically, what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the environment have been seen as polar opposites.
It’s assumed you have to make a straight choice between the two.
It’s also an attitude that favours division over dialogue.
Well I reject that.
That’s why I welcome the CPRE’s constructive – but challenging – input to High Speed Two.
From the start, we have sought to consider the views of rural communities.
Their evidence was carefully weighed up after one of the largest public consultations ever.
And as a result, we announced alterations.
More than half the route between London and Birmingham will now be in tunnels or cuttings…
Including a longer, continuous tunnel under the Chilterns from Little Missenden to the M25.
Of the 13 miles through the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, less than 2 miles will be at or above the surface.
That means less impact on ancient woodlands and heritage sites.
But there is still a lot to do.
So HS2 Ltd will keep working hard with you and others as the scheme develops.
And as we consult on the best route for HS2 north of Birmingham.
Design and compensation
I’m particularly keen to ensure high quality design for structures along the route
Ones that are sensitive to the character of their setting.
So I can confirm today that I have asked HS2 Ltd to look at establishing an independent HS2 design panel – just as we did for the Olympic park and Crossrail.
Made up of experts in architecture, engineering, town planning and transport, it will work with local people, councils, environmental and countryside groups.
More than that, those whose homes are affected will be recompensed over and above what the law requires.
All those living closest to HS2 will be able to sell their home to the government – whether they are required for construction or not – at any time after the route is safeguarded.
They will receive its full value.
But they will also receive a 10% additional home loss compensation up to a value of £47,000.
And they’ll be reimbursed for reasonable moving costs.
In rural areas we will establish a voluntary purchase zone which will go out as far as 120 million from the railway line, within which homeowners will have the option to sell their properties to the government for the full value.
And there will be a long term hardship scheme to help those further afield.
But I also believe that the impacts of HS2 will be considerably less than many fear.
Indeed, we expect property values to recover over time.
The example of HS1 in Kent suggests this is more than a hope.
It can be a reality.
Fear of change
And that brings me back to something I mentioned at the start.
Fear of change in the countryside.
Sometimes it’s justified.
Who knows what would have happened to our green belt over the decades had the countryside lobby not protested and made its voice heard?
But we have moved on from the days when Swampy was headline news.
We’ve learnt from massive advances in green technologies and construction techniques.
We’ve learnt that it’s neither environmentally or morally acceptable to build new infrastructure without careful consideration of the surrounding landscape.
And we’ve learnt that offering either an effective transport system or a clean and green environment is a false choice.
Those road protests were against schemes designed more than a quarter of century ago, by a generation of road builders whose careers began when the very first motorways were being created.
Today, we’re investing around £2 billion in a programme of fourteen managed motorways schemes across the country
Rather than hugely expensive widening programmes, we’re making the most of our existing infrastructure through use of the hard shoulder.
As with HS2, projects have to fit into the existing landscape, matching the topography, where necessary using false cuttings and planting new trees.
We use quieter tarmac, and noise barriers.
We build boxes for bats and tunnels for badgers.
And we sometimes build entire substitute habitats for protected species.
A good example of how much progress has been made is the A3 Hindhead Improvement scheme.
Opened last year, this project not only protects the surrounding countryside – but makes it much better.
A tunnel was built to bypass the village of Hindhead and remove a notorious traffic bottleneck.
But the scheme also reunited two commons previously split by the road, creating the largest area of lowland heath in Southern Britain.
Developers also planted 200,000 trees and shrubs to provide a magnificent haven for wildlife and lovers of our countryside.
And that isn’t a one-off.
For example, when we improved the A30 in Cornwall we bought land with Natural England to create new moorland.
And a 670 hectare wetland nature reserve – the largest of its kind in Europe – is being created on Wallasea Island…
…from almost 5 million tonnes of earth excavated from beneath London as part of the Crossrail project.
Schemes like these are not isolated examples of good practice.
They’re a pointer to the future.
The CPRE – and the broader environmental lobby – can certainly take credit.
But I know you’ve got an even bigger role to play in the future.
We’re not proposing to emulate China, which over the next three years will build 70 new airports…
…and ten massive new transport routes crisscrossing one of the largest countries in the world.
But we do have to modernise key parts of our transport system if the UK is going to be able to compete.
That’s what HS2 will do.
A new transport network for the 21st century that will meet rigorous environmental standards.
So. A final thought.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t just oppose.
Consider what’s needed.
And work with us to get it right.