Good evening everyone.
And thanks for that welcome.
I’m delighted to be back in Birmingham. And back at the ICC. Just a couple of weeks after the Conservative party conference. I spend a lot of time travelling around the UK. And I see how important transport is to every part of the country. But it has a unique significance here in Birmingham.
For nearly 2 centuries, this region has owed much of its prosperity to the transport industry. This is where the steam engine came of age. The spiritual heartland of the British car industry. And it’s also the geographical centre of the country. Where national routes converge.
So transport is a huge issue here. Particularly for your businesses. Competing in a tough global market. You know better than most the critical role that transport plays, in supporting growth and jobs here in the Midlands, and in attracting new investors to the region.
And why if the Midlands wants a thriving, modern economy, it also needs a successful, modern transport system. And this government is determined to make it happen. When you look at where we were 4 and a half years ago, we’ve made massive progress.
In 2010, the UK was ranked 33rd by the World Economic Forum for the quality of its infrastructure. Even in times of plenty, Britain neglected its infrastructure. Yet demand for transport kept going up. Just as it will in the future.
In fact today, we’re travelling twice as far as we did in 1970. No wonder the network’s clogged. But of course we faced other problems in 2010. A record public deficit. And an economy reeling from the banking crisis. Typically, in the past, we’d have raided the transport budget in times of austerity. This time, we did the opposite. We changed the way we thought about infrastructure. We made transport a central part of our national strategy for growth and jobs. We developed a National Infrastructure Plan that had been lacking for so long, providing a steady and predictable chain of projects over time.
Projects that will be delivered, not derailed. And we announced billions of extra funding for roads, rail, and local transport. With a national roads budget that is going to triple. The biggest rail modernisation programme for more than a century. And over £70 billion of capital investment for transport through the next Parliament.
The message is clear: Britain’s doing infrastructure well again. And that’s already having a real impact in this part of the world. Birmingham New Street Station is being transformed.
Our Smart Motorways programme has been extended to the M6, M40 and M42. Four-lane running and new technologies are helping to increase capacity and smooth traffic flow. Counter-intuitively, removing the hard-shoulder has also made motorways safer.
We’re also funding a wide range of road pinchpoint schemes across the region. And we’ve announced a £93 million national cycling programme. Of which £17 million will go to Birmingham. To transform it into one of Britain’s leading cycling cities. And in just 3 years’ time, subject to Royal Assent, we will begin building HS2.
The fundamental case for the new line has been made - around capacity, connectivity and economic growth. We’ve talked at length about the massive number of seats the line will provide. About the capacity it will release on the existing network. And the time savings of HS2.
On Britain’s busiest north-south routes
So now the debate has progressed from whether we should build HS2, to how we should build it. And how we can make the most of our investment. As the scheme develops, the focus is moving to cities and regions with HS2 stations. So they can seize the full opportunities.
King’s Cross/St Pancras has shown what’s possible. Where the magnificent new stations have inspired a complete regeneration of the area. We want to see every city on the line take full advantage. So HS2 stations become hubs for growth and regeneration. That’s why last summer we created the HS2 Growth Taskforce.
The Taskforce, chaired by Lord Deighton, and including Sir Albert Bore, has been advising us on the best way forward. Its report earlier this year made clear the importance of making the right decisions now. To prepare cities for the coming of high speed rail.
Among the key recommendations, the Taskforce urged cities like Birmingham to develop HS2 growth strategies.Supported by local authority bodies, and a new central delivery body. We strongly back the Taskforce’s call for local leadership.
Cities are best placed to drive this process themselves. And take advantage of what is an unparalleled opportunity for regeneration. The importance of Birmingham to the wider HS2 project was underlined the other day. When we announced that the new High Speed College would be based here. But we don’t underestimate the size or the complexity of the task cities face.
So we’re implementing the recommendations in Lord Deighton’s report. To make sure that cities like Birmingham get the right support. Here, the Local Enterprise Partnership has begun the process of developing its own growth strategy. For Curzon Street and the interchange station at Solihull. The government is providing £2.5 million to speed up this work.
Birmingham has also launched the Curzon Urban Regeneration Company to maximise the benefits of HS2. The company will lead a programme that will ultimately create 14,000 jobs, provide space for 2,000 new homes, and contribute up to £1.3 billion a year to the local economy.
Collaboration on a broader scale will drive further benefits. One such collaboration is Midlands Connect. A partnership between Midlands Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities working with Network Rail, the Highways Agency, and businesses.
The partnership will help the Midlands get the most from high speed rail. Integrating the new line with the rest of the transport system. And improving connectivity right across the country. Midlands Connect will also help establish what the region needs from transport to fulfil its economic potential. To provide a framework for investment in the years and decades ahead.
So HS2 won’t be the only priority. It will also focus on improving east-west connectivity. Improving freight across the region. And boosting links to international gateways, like Birmingham Airport.
So government welcomes the role that Midlands Connect is playing. Together with LEPs, through their Strategic Economic Plans. To form a robust, effective transport programme to maximise growth across the Midlands.There are many other aspects of our transport programme I could have talked about today.
The money we’re spending to resurface 80% of the motorway and major road network. Rail electrification – all 850 miles of it. And our support for low carbon vehicles.
Initiatives like the plug-in car grant. And the rolling out of a recharging infrastructure. Helped sales of low carbon vehicles leap by 56% last month compared with September 2013. Sales of vehicles eligible for the plug-in car grant soared from 587 to an amazing 3,090.
That’s more than 4 times the comparable figure last year. And means that registrations for 2014 so far are nearly two and half times higher than 2013.
As I said earlier. We’ve come a long way since the General Election. We’ve become one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world. And we’ve almost halved the deficit.
Now the challenge is to secure sustained growth and prosperity. And one of the best ways to do that is through our infrastructure programme. We’re in this for the long-haul. This time, there can be no leaving the job to the next generation. Instead we must all grasp the opportunities that investment provides. The opportunity to make travel better for millions of hard working people. To regenerate Birmingham. And to put decades of gradually deteriorating transport services behind us.