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A Labour legacy to be proud of

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 12:26

By Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Good transport policy promotes growth, creates jobs, improves quality of life, supports our environmental objectives, and promotes social justice. There are few areas of policymaking which impact quite so frequently on our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, in the latter half of the twentieth-century, successive Governments of both parties didn’t always get it right; bus deregulation led to poor or in some cases non existent services in many areas, and the botched privatisation of rail left a mess which took the best part of a decade to clear up. Perhaps above all, there was until relatively recently a lack of real ambition in transport policy.

Yet Labour’s defeat at the General Election came at a time when we were pursuing a truly forward-looking agenda.  We had developed a coherent, long- term plan for the growth of Britain’s transport networks, including a strategic freight network.  We set out plans to increase capacity on rail with new rolling stock alongside major electrification schemes.  The formerly elusive funding deal for Crossrail was secured. As part of the economic stimulus, there was additional money for major road and other local transport schemes. And, following the opening of Britain’s first high speed rail line linking London to the Channel Tunnel, we set out plans for a North-South link.

Indeed, across the political spectrum, a consensus emerged about the need for greater ambition in long-term transport planning. Ahead of the General Election, all parties agreed that in the long-term, Britain must develop a North-South high speed rail network. There is a broad consensus, too, that developing integrated transport links, and encouraging modal shift to achieve less polluting patterns of transport, is key to the development of a low carbon economy.

High speed rail is the most ambitious transport project Britain has embarked on since the rapid expansion of the motorway network. If the ambition remains intact then perhaps it can have as profound an impact on the way Britain moves as the motorways did. I believe that the plans set out earlier this year for an initial “Y” shaped network set us on a course towards a truly nationwide route – and am concerned that the new Government appears keen to scale this down to a single line from London to Leeds via Manchester, cutting the East Midlands and South Yorkshire out of the network.

Indeed, across transport policy it is becoming clear that ambition looks likely to fall victim to austerity. Of course we will have to wait for the spending review for any clarity on what will survive and what will be cut. When we eventually have the chance to challenge the Government over the detail, Philip Hammond will respond with accusations of profligacy. Yet there is no question in my mind that investments we made in Government represented excellent value for money.  Investment in transport infrastructure and services is about as secure an investment as can be made, in terms of job creation, GDP growth, local economic benefit, environmental improvements and quality of life.

I’m proud of the legacy we left – faster, safer and more reliable trains, with passenger levels at a 60 year high; powers for local authorities to ensure that all communities are served effectively by bus services; and a genuine, forward looking plan for an integrated transport network. These are a platform on which the new Government can build if it chooses – however I fear that we could see many gains lost. As we face the challenge of developing a prosperous low carbon economy, ambition is more important than ever if transport is to play its part.