Councils will be stopped from treating motorists as cash cows through over-zealous enforcement of minor offences. Revealing a package of measures ahead of his keynote speech to the Tory party conference on Monday, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he would halt the anti-car campaign of a metropolitan elite.
The Cabinet minister also vowed he will not give in to militant unions even if it means rail strikes continue to the general election, as a “politically motivated” walkout brings the network to a halt again today.
Mr Harper told the Daily Express he will protect the public’s freedom to use their cars and declared: “We are the party of the driver,” he said.
“We’re taking action to end the punitive measures that unfairly target ordinary drivers.” Changes will prevent blanket 20mph zones in England and it will be easier to challenge major road restrictions.
A review will look at stopping councils generating excessive profits from traffic offences and zealous enforcement such as at yellow box junctions.
Bus lanes will be enforced only when there is enough demand and low-traffic neighbourhoods that lack sufficient support may be reviewed.
Mr Harper 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. 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.”
Rishi Sunak last night also attacked “hare-brained schemes” such as LTNs and 20mph zones “forced” on drivers.
The Prime Minister said penalising motorists for going about their daily lives “doesn’t reflect the values of Britain” as he vowed to ensure drivers are not “aggressively restricted”.
He added: “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.”
Mr Harper told the Express there is a divide between the “metropolitan bubble where people talk about cars like they’re a bad thing” and most of the rest of the UK who rely on them.
He said there is a “clear divide” between the parties, pointing to motoring measures such as low-emission and 20mph zones taken in Labour-run London and Wales. He called Mr Sunak’s decision to delay a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by five years “very sensible”.
The minister added: “But we’re still moving towards a world where new cars will become zero emission. 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 guidance will not stop the introduction of 20mph zones near schools on housing estates, adding: “What we’re saying is that blanket 20mph speed limits don’t make sense.”
The Government will make it easier to challenge existing 20mph zones on major arterial roads while revised guidance will call for bus lanes to be in place only at times when services operate or there is high demand.
Mr Harper will announce his plans at the conference in Manchester, which is being disrupted for the second successive year by train strikes.
He pledged 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 more money without securing reforms.
Members of the Aslef drivers union at 16 train operators will strike today and on Wednesday – halting services on Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Northern, Southeastern and Transpennine Express trains.
Drivers will again refuse to work their rest days from Monday to Friday. Mr Harper claimed unions were failing to put a “fair and reasonable” offer that is on the table to members.
He said the network’s revenue was down by 30 percent since the pandemic and rail workers “can’t just carry on as they were”. The Transport Secretary said train drivers earn an average £60,000 a year 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…carrying out a strike for political reasons. It would be the wrong decision to just throw money at those union members from taxpayers.
“That would be the easy thing.But it would be the wrong thing to do for the country and not insisting on reform. At the moment it isn’t financially sustainable.”
Mr Harper said he was prepared to face strikes up to the election rather than giving in to union demands. The Transport Secretary insisted the Tories were taking the “proportionate and pragmatic” decisions needed.
He predicted: “I think people will support us, and we will win that fifth term.” But he refused to confirm if the Government was planning to ditch the next phase of HS2 that would link Birmingham to Manchester.
Ex-PM Boris Johnson said cutting or postponing the high-speed rail line would amount to “betraying the north of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up”.