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Transport Secretary addresses CPRE on rural roads and rail

What is the future for rural transport? What is the future for rural transport? © Simon Greig/Shutterstock

Patrick McLoughlin's speech to CPRE on balancing countryside protection with new road schemes and HS2

An edited version of CPRE's 2012 Annual Lecture given by Transport Secretary, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin, on 13 November 2012:

"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. 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.” 

Patrick McLoughlinWe 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? Either you try to freeze progress, put up with what you have got alread 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.

Rural transport
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 £600m 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.

Road sign clutter
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.

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. So my message today to highways engineers is: if in doubt, don’t do it.

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.

High speed rail
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. 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. 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.

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.

Fear of change
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.

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.  

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, 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."
Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP
Secretary of State for Transport

Read CPRE's response to Patrick McLoughlin and the responses of our two expert panellists, Anne Perkins and Paul Salveson.

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An unedited version of this speech can be found on the Department for Transport website

Photo: © Nigel Keene

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.




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Cumbria Stockghyll forest Lake District 5