Transport secretary Chris Grayling has said the government should “press ahead” with the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line.
However, Grayling and chancellor Philip Hammond said very little about south east airport expansion in their speeches at the Conservative Party Conference, currently being held in Birmingham.
“We need to get more freight off the roads and onto rail. So how do we do that? Easy. We create more space on our railways. And how do we do that? We build a new railway that links our major cities – so we’ve got more space for freight trains and commuter trains on our other busiest lines. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to press ahead with HS2,” said Grayling.
“Everyone will benefit from this new project. A commuter who never uses the new fast service will benefit from the extra space it will free up on their lines. The motorist who never uses a train, will have a quicker journey as we get more freight off the roads. And if we need to build a new railway, why on earth wouldn’t we build a new, state-of-the-art one for the coming century.
“It’s about a new, 21st century, Elizabethan era for our railways, not going back to the Victorian one.”
Grayling touched on the south east runway issue, but stopped short of hinting at any decision. He said: “By building another runway in the South East, we will send a signal to the world that Britain is open for business.
“And it won’t just benefit the South East, regional airports will benefit from any expansion too. It’s good for the whole British economy.”
In addition, Hammond used his speech to reaffirm his commitment to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), although he did not say whether previous plans to make it into a statutory body would be carried out.
He also said the Treasury would continue to drive the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine projects.
Civils contractors have welcomed the government’s recognition of the need for world-class infrastructure to ensure the UK’s economic competitiveness.
“The chancellor’s recognition that the delivery of world-class infrastructure will be vital to securing economic growth will be warmly received by industry,” said Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming.
“The chancellor has announced that the NIC will be central to carefully targeted investment in high-value infrastructure. He has also said that he will pursue a new plan for the new circumstances Britain faces following the decision to leave the European Union.
“This approach is to be applauded. Infrastructure investment and long-term pipeline visibility are drivers of growth in the wider economy.”