Councils will be stopped from treating motorists like cash cows with over-zealous enforcement of minor offences. Announcing a package of measures ahead of his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference on Monday, Mr Harper said he wants to end the anti-car campaign of the metropolitan elite.
The Cabinet minister also vowed he will not give in to militant unions, even if it means rail strikes all the way to the general election, as a “politically motivated” walkout brings the rail network to a halt again on Saturday.
Mr Harper told the Daily Express he will protect people’s freedom to use their cars. “We are the party of the driver,” he said.
“We’re taking action to end the punitive measures that unfairly target ordinary drivers.” As well as stopping blanket 20-mile-per-hour zones being imposed in England, it will become easier to challenge existing restrictions on major roads.
A review will be launched into preventing councils from generating excessive amounts of profit from traffic offences and over-zealous enforcement such as at yellow box junctions.
Bus lanes will only be enforced when there is enough demand and divisive low-traffic neighbourhoods will be axed. He said: “It’s a plan for drivers and setting out a proper structure to say we recognise for most people the car is really important.
“It’s a big part of people’s freedom and independence and getting to work and how they live their lives. “And we want to make sure that people have got proper choices about how they travel.
“So they can cycle, they can walk, but they can also drive and that you’re not feeding this what appears to be a conversation where people are always anti-car, anti driver and making life difficult for people who drive, which is most people in the country.”
He said there is a divide between the “metropolitan bubble where people talk about cars like they’re a bad thing” and the vast majority of the rest of the country who rely on their cars.
Mr Harper insisted there is a “clear divide” between the parties and pointed to the punitive approach to drivers taken in Labour-run London and Wales.
He said the decision taken by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to delay a ban on the sale of new petrol cars by five years was “very sensible”.
“But we’re still moving towards a world where new cars will become zero emission,” he added. “And in that world, that’s how you deal with the impact on net zero and on carbon, not by telling people they can’t drive.”
Mr Harper said that new guidance will not stop councils from introducing 20-mile-an-hour zones around the school on housing estates.
“What we’re saying is that blanket 20-mile-an-hour speed limits don’t make sense and that’s what they’ve just done in Wales.
The government will also make it easier for motorists to challenge existing 20mph zones on major arterial roads. New guidance will also call for bus lanes to only be in place at times when services operate or there is high demand.
Mr Harper will announce the plans at the Tory conference in Manchester, which is being disrupted for the second year running by train strikes.
He vowed to stand firm against the unions all the way up to the general election rather than take the “easy” option of settling the dispute by handing over cash without securing any reforms.
Members of the drivers union Aslef at 16 train operators will strike on Saturday and Wednesday, with no services on Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Northern, Southeastern and Transpennine Express.
Drivers will refuse to work rest days again next week, from October 2 to 6, which is also expected to cause disruption.
Mr Harper said the union was failing to put the “fair and reasonable” offer on the table to its members. He said since the pandemic 30 percent of the revenue has disappeared and the rail workers “can’t just carry on as they were”.
The Transport Secretary said train drivers earn an average salary a year of £60,000 pounds for a four-day 35-hour week. He added: “The fact they’re going on strike on the day they think people are going to the Conservative conference shows you what this is.
“This is a political strike. This is about Mick Whelan, their general secretary who sits on Labour’s national executive who’s very closely aligned with the Labour Party carrying out a strike for political reasons.
“Not putting the fair and reasonable offer to his members. And it would be the wrong decision to just throw money at those union members from taxpayers because that’s who’s subsidising the railway industry at the moment.
“So that would be the easy thing to do to get rid of disruption but it’d be the wrong thing to do for the country and not insisting on reform, to try and get the rail industry to be more sustainable.
At the moment it isn’t financially sustainable.” Mr Harper said he was prepared to face strike action all the way up to the election instead of giving in to the union’s demands.
The Transport Secretary insisted he believes the party is on the right course and is taking the “proportionate and pragmatic” decisions needed.
“I think people will support us, and we will win that fifth term,” he added. Mr Harper refused to say if the government is planning to ditch the next phase of the HS2 project that would link Birmingham to Manchester.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said cutting or postponing the project would amount to “betraying the north of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also attacked “hare-brained schemes” like Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones “forced” on Britain’s 40 million cash-strapped drivers.
Mr Sunak said penalising motorists for going about their daily lives “doesn’t reflect the values of Britain”.
The Prime Minister took aim at so-called “15 Minute Cities” to make everyday essentials bike-friendly – vowing to make sure drivers are not “aggressively restricted”.
He said: “Politicians always want to make short-term decisions, take the easy way out, without any thinking about how that is actually just going to impact ordinary people.
“There is just this relentless attack on motorists and a common misunderstanding from politicians in Westminster about the fact that most people around the country depend on their cars.
“They depend on their cars to get to work, take their kids to school, do their shopping, see the doctor.”