Managing transport in an uncertain world
Long-term commitment will boost transport resilience.
Good afternoon everyone.
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.
To be part of a distinguished speaker line-up.
And to round off this excellent conference.
You’ve covered a huge amount of ground in considerable detail today.
And I think what the discussion has shown is that transport needs to be at the heart of planning.
So what I’d like to do in this final speech is give you the government perspective.
And what we’re doing to deliver better transport in an uncertain world.
An uncertain world
You know - I’m sure if we polled any generation of adults over the past 50 years, they’d probably say life was becoming less predictable and secure.
But what about us the 21st century generation?
Undoubtedly, we have faced some exceptional challenges.
From the rise of global terrorism to the financial crash of 2008 both of which have changed the way we look at the world.
Paradoxically, rapidly evolving technologies like smart phones and social media may help us control our own lives.
But they also have the potential to change society in ways we cannot foresee.
Even the government of which I am a member was born out of uncertainty.
Coming to office in 2010, during a period of unprecedented economic upheaval.
As part of the first Coalition in this country since World War Two.
Not knowing precisely how the day to day machinery of government would work.
But despite all these challenges and uncertainties, we are also living through incredibly exciting times.
What one person may describe as ‘uncertainty’, I would call ‘opportunity’.
Particularly for those of us working in transport.
Opportunity to embrace a new age of technological change and innovation.
Opportunity to make transport a real force for good.
And opportunity to mould our future.
Six years of progress
In fact we were able to achieve a great deal during 5 years of coalition government.
We turned round our economy.
And began delivering within our means.
We also built a consensus for infrastructure investment.
According to a Treasury report last year, Britain’s future infrastructure programme is now valued at £411 billion.
By some margin, transport is the biggest part of that programme.
And it’s in this Parliament when we really get cracking with delivery.
We recognise that the stop-start funding of the past created uncertainty within the industry.
So what we’re providing is a sustained pipeline of transport investment that will create jobs, boost productivity, and make the country more economically secure in the future.
This is one of the things we can control.
Wholehearted government commitment.
Predictable and fully committed funding.
So we’re all better placed to take advantage of the opportunities around us.
Our ultimate goal a transport network that supports growth and helps reduce carbon emissions, changing the way we work and travel, is not just a priority.
It’s an essential.
Today we’re at the start of a construction and modernisation programme which will make Britain one of the leading transport investors in the western world.
We start building HS2 next year, for example.
Elsewhere on the railway, there’s Crossrail, Thameslink, Northern Hub, new intercity trains, and a major electrification programme.
This Parliament, we’ve raised funding for transport by 50%.
And we’re rolling out a £15 billion roads investment strategy up to 2020 - the biggest spend on roads since the 1970s, with over 100 major schemes around the country.
We’re already making real progress with that strategy.
Four major schemes are complete and open to traffic.
Five more majors are under construction.
Smart motorways are reducing congestion, and improving journey times by smoothing traffic flow.
In fact, during this Parliament, Highways England will add over 400 lane miles.
And the long-term goal is to link existing stretches to create a new smart motorway corridor between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
The future today
But what about future technology change?
There’s little doubt that we are on the verge of a road transport revolution.
After 120 years of dominance, there’s an end in sight for the internal combustion engine.
While sales of ultra low emission vehicles are really starting to motor.
And a huge array of other technologies promise equally profound changes to the way we drive and manage traffic.
New ways to fill potholes.
New ideas to improve road safety.
In February we announced £20 million to support 8 projects to help vehicles communicate with roadside infrastructure.
These projects including new ‘talking car technologies’ are the first to be funded from the government’s £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund.
The projects range from autonomous shuttles and pods to vehicles carrying visually-impaired passengers using advanced sensors and control systems.
Trials to test driverless cars on the streets are being carried out in several locations around the country.
And autonomous vehicles are also being used in Heathrow to move passengers before real world tests start in Greenwich this summer.
The benefits are clear.
Lower carbon emissions and pollution.
And reduced congestion.
Roads, bridges and tunnels are also starting to join the ‘Internet of Things’.
Indeed, wireless connection between vehicles and the wider environment is already helping warn drivers about hazards, weather and traffic patterns.
Strings of sensors monitor traffic by communicating with mobile phones in moving vehicles.
The information is sent to a traffic control system which automatically adjusts traffic flow.
One of the most interesting areas of development is cars that talk to each other.
We already have the technology.
The systems we use today to bring music and entertainment and GPS information into our vehicles will help us build a smart vehicle network.
If a car ahead hits congestion, it will immediately alert other cars so they can take another route.
Or connected systems could reserve you a parking space at your destination as soon as you get into your car.
No more driving around town centres on a fruitless search.
Technology will also change local highway maintenance.
Helping highway authorities reduce costs.
A simple example is collision sensors which prevent bumps and scrapes while drivers are parking their cars.
Another is autonomous braking.
And this year the University of Leeds, working with Leeds City Council, started a project to create self-repairing cities.
The idea is to use small robots to identify problems with utility pipes, street lights and roads, and fix them with minimal disruption to the public.
New systems are also being used to monitor the condition of roads and other infrastructure, to improve maintenance and reduce whole life costs.
Of course we can’t say with certainty today exactly how all these technologies will evolve, and which of these systems will prove the most successful.
We don’t know precisely how we will navigate the path from fossil fuel-powered cars driven by humans, to low carbon, driverless motoring.
But we do know we will get there.
And that there will be many fantastic opportunities for industry along the way.
Resilience and certainty
That journey starts right now.
We are already working closely with Highways England, the Office for Rail and Road, and the new watchdog Transport Focus to define the process for our next Road investment strategy after 2020.
It won’t just make use of innovative technologies.
It will also be funded in a new way.
As the Chancellor announced last year, we are launching a National Roads Fund, using vehicle excise duty to pay for the upkeep of roads.
Every penny raised through VED will be used to improve the network.
Delivering the long-term certainty the industry asked for.
I was pleased that the CIHT and the rest of the industry welcomed the announcement.
For example, the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association said it was:
Extremely good news for our sector, because it goes a long way to ensure a secure future for the maintenance and upgrade of the English strategic roads network.
Long-term funding reform is key to delivering the infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century.
I couldn’t agree more.
We’re working with the industry to support resilience in other ways too.
Helping achieve 30,000 road and rail apprenticeships.
Attracting and training thousands of engineers, designers and construction professionals.
And expanding the supply chain.
To deliver the roads programme the country so badly needs.
These are all massive challenges.
For you and for me.
But by working in partnership, we can turn uncertainties about the future into certainties.
Providing long-term, ring-fenced investment.
Managing a more efficient road network.
And putting Britain at the forefront of technological innovation.
The opportunities could not be more exciting.
So let’s grasp them together.