Chief Secretary to the Treasury at Eurotunnel
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander speaks to Eurotunnel employees.
Thank you very much for welcoming me to Eurotunnel today.
I’m particularly delighted to be able to visit during your 20th anniversary year.
Over 330 million people have travelled through these wonderful tunnels.
To put that in some sort of context, it’s more than the entire population of the United States.
This Cross-Channel Fixed Link – and Eurotunnel as its operators – has had a huge impact on the transport and logistics industries…
Not to mention the UK economy more broadly.
The rolling motorway concept – with a crossing time of just 35 minutes – has never been more important.
The factories, supermarkets and consumers of today demand to-the-minute precision.
And Eurotunnel – for 20 years – has been delivering just that.
For 2.5 million cars every year.
For 1.4 million trucks every year…
And for thousands of high-speed passenger trains and rail freight trains too.
There’s something fabulous about the awesome engineering that makes our bridges, roads, railways and tunnels.
And let’s face it, when it comes to infrastructure – things don’t come much bigger and better than the Channel Tunnel and its supporting operations.
Even after 20 years, you stand out as exceptional.
Now, I want to spend this morning talking to you about why I love infrastructure so much…
Why I think it’s so important to our economy.
And what the government is doing to make sure we have an infrastructure fit for the 21st century.
But first I want to pay tribute to two very important groups of people.
The first group is the group of people who actually built this thing.
Over 15,000 thousand men and women were employed in the construction phase of this project.
An incredible work force that has delivered a stunning piece of engineering.
Sadly, 10 people lost their lives and I think we should reflect for a brief moment on that sad sacrifice.
The second group of people is YOU.
The men and women who run what is a unique commercial enterprise.
You should all be incredibly proud of what you do…
And what you add to the regional and national economy.
Now I know that – quite understandably – your 20th anniversary will be a real opportunity to celebrate your success.
To celebrate your success so far, and to reflect on everything you’ve done for the UK economy.
But it’s also an opportunity to look forward to the possibilities for the future…
And I was very excited to hear that there is plenty of capacity to further increase the use of the tunnels.
By 2020, there will be another 500,000 trucks using the tunnel each year.
And another 4.5 million passengers…
And this is good news for British businesses looking to export.
Good news for the British public.
And good news for British jobs too.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough…
Eurotunnel is now embarking on expansion and on a major new energy project.
You’re not only focusing on delivering higher and higher passenger and freight numbers – important though that is.
You’re looking at how this unique infrastructure asset fits into the wider infrastructure of the UK and Europe.
And the plans I’ve been hearing about to increase capacity on the M20 motorway exit are as ambitious as they are crucial.
Those four new lanes will support the forecast growth in the use of the tunnel.
And they will also help smooth the flow of vehicles into, and out of, the south east of England.
I’m aware that in certain circumstances – problems with the ferries or exceptional peak demand – vehicles end up backing up onto the M20.
And I’ve been told that Kent Police have to implement ‘Operation Stack’ on such occasions and use the M20 as a giant lorry park…
Which causes massive disruption across East Kent.
So the expansion of your approaches will really benefit the local, regional and national economy.
It’s a great example of joint working between private business, and local and national government.
On top of that, the plans to broaden the number of routes by passenger trains using the tunnel are really significant.
Because for every Brit - like me - looking forward to a whole new range of weekend break destinations becoming accessible, they’ll be tourists and business people all across Europe looking to come to the UK. These new routes will also open up new opportunities for British business; increasing access to some key European markets.
And anyone who thinks Eurotunnel is just about transporting goods and people will soon need to think again.
Because your plan to run a 1 Giga-Watt electricity interconnector to link the French and UK power grids has huge potential.
I’ve heard today how this will help the UK to balance its supply and demand of energy.
And it’s a great example of optimising existing infrastructure for vital new uses.
Now while you’ve got 20 years of real success to look back on…
With plenty of exciting work to come!
But – while there is a hell of a lot more work to come from us – I’m pleased with the progress we’re making.
We made infrastructure a key priority.
I am driven by the knowledge that we can only build a stronger economy by investing in our infrastructure.
If we want to build a strong, thriving economy for the 21st century…
Then we need to have the infrastructure to support it.
And the government has to lead by example.
And we have to create the right climate for businesses to invest.
Research suggests our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could have been 5% higher each year between 2000 and 2010 if our infrastructure had matched that of other leading global economies.
So, despite the need to tackle the deficit, we’ve prioritised vital capital investment.
Of course, infrastructure generates short-term benefits as it is built, improved or maintained.
It requires materials and services, with jobs created right along the supply chain.
And I’m told that Eurotunnel provides 830 direct – and 3 000 indirect – jobs in the UK.
But the long-term impact is far more significant.
New or improved infrastructure can give people access to more and better jobs.
It can improve the choice, price and quality of goods and services for consumers, helping to raise living standards.
And it can enable businesses to interact with a greater number of other firms.
In short, it supports economic growth.
It’s impossible to overstate this point.
The only way to build a stronger economy that will last….
The only way to improve living standards …..
is for businesses to invest and for a substantial part of that investment to be in infrastructure.
You at Eurotunnel are a shining example of private investment.
So what are we as government doing to make sure that our roads and rail and digital and energy networks are amongst the best in the world?
Well, we’re providing high level planning.
We’re helping with local planning.
And – most importantly – we’re working on financing.
On high level planning, we published the first ever National Infrastructure Plan in 2010…
And we’ve refreshed it every year since.
This document sets out our analysis of the infrastructure that the UK needs, and our strategy for delivering it.
And we also publish an infrastructure pipeline…
Which acts as a prospectus for investors:
- identifying key infrastructure requirements for decades to come
- and alerting us to pinch-points in supply chain capacity, to make sure we are well equipped to meet our infrastructure needs
For example – and from where I stand this example seems particularly relevant – analysis of the pipeline indicates significant new tunnelling capability will be required to deliver key projects like HS2 and Thames Tideway Tunnel. Together with Crossrail, government has invested in a new tunnelling academy to ensure we build these key skills to meet the demand.
On local planning we’re committed to speeding up and streamlining the planning system.
And – amongst other reforms in this area – just this month we opened a new Planning Court.
This is a dedicated court to consider Judicial Reviews of major infrastructure schemes…
Which will prevent them from being held up by frustrating delays.
In 2011, if an application went all the way to a final hearing…
It would take – on average – just over a year.
Under the new Planning Court, this time will be cut in half.
On financing, as I’ve already said, the government is also prioritising public investment in infrastructure, including for the likes of High Speed 2.
Incidentally, I was delighted to travel to Folkestone on HS1 this morning.
Another example of infrastructure delivering economic growth.
I urge any critic or opponent of HS2 to look at the success of HS1.
But as a government we’re also helping kickstart vital privately financed infrastructure projects…
By providing financial guarantees – through our UK Guarantee Scheme – to help get them off the ground.
That scheme has helped pave the way for the Mersey Gateway Bridge, where construction will start imminently.
And guarantees are also supporting a coal to biomass conversion at Drax Power Station…
And the extension of the Northern Line to Battersea.
And earlier today the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced a package of investment in renewable energy infrastructure that will bring forward up to £12 billion of private sector investment, generating enough clean electricity to power over 3 million homes.
These are all helpful developments – and they are all having an impact.
But we need to be realistic…
And we need to realise that updating this country’s infrastructure won’t happen overnight.
It will take time, and it will require continued close working between government and the private sector.
But we are seeing strong progress.
Since 2010, over 2000 infrastructure projects or improvements to infrastructure been successfully completed.
That’s ten projects every week.
Projects large and small, all over the UK.
Don’t worry, I don’t plan to talk to you about each and every one.
But I do want to give you a flavour of what’s been delivered.
- flood defences, over 500 schemes have been completed – including vital defences protecting thousands of homes along the River Trent in Nottingham, and on the Humber in Stallingborough
- transport, over 650 upgrades are now complete – from the enormous new London Gateway Port, to hundreds of train station improvements up and down the country
- energy generation, over 850 projects have been completed….
Including the £1.5 billion London Array offshore wind project, the £1.3 billion gas-fired power station in Pembroke, and the world’s largest solar bridge at Blackfriars Station.
Those 850 projects also include many smaller scale green energy schemes of local significance. The Osney Lock Community hydro scheme in Oxford is a great example.
And there have been a number of communications, science, waste and water projects completed too.
So whether it’s a transport upgrade that makes a real, tangible impact on a local community…
Or a major energy scheme of national significance…
The government is delivering.
And by working in partnership with companies like Eurotunnel - people like you – we can continue to transform the UK’s infrastructure.
Together, we can provide the infrastructure this country needs to support jobs and growth.
You are a world leading example of what our engineers can achieve.
You are a world leading example of the positive economic advances that infrastructure delivers.
I have hugely enjoyed my visit here today in your 20th year.
Thank you so much for hosting me….