I want to be more European!

I managed a couple of one day trips to the continent during the long two week break from Parliament, to meet people in industry and commerce in Germany and Sweden. (No, they were not paid for by the taxpayer.)
It has made me want to be more European in one very important respect – to have adequate transport capacity here at home, just as they do abroad.

Wanting to get there and back as quickly as possible without wasting too much travel time, I discovered the train was impossible. Day trips were impossible by train as the distances were too great. I did not want the extra cost of hotels and the extra time away from my responsibilities here, so I had to fly. My visit to Germany took me in a couple of hours to Munich, and from there I was able to take a car to my meetings. The terminal capacity at Munich airport was large, with plenty of room and plenty of staff to deal with incoming flights. It has received huge investment as Lufthansa’s second hub airport after Frankfort. The roads to my destination were immaculate, with plenty of lanes and good junctions. The taxi driver was able to travel legally and safely at speeds of up to 160km (100 mph) with little difficulty. On my return to Heathrow there were long queues at Passport control owing to a lack of staff and positions, long queues to get out of the car park, and traffic jams, even on a motorway where the theoretical top speed is only 70 mph. There is a notable shortage of terminal and road capacity.

My trip to Sweden was even easier. I flew to Copenhagen, where I found another huge airport with plenty of terminal capacity and plenty of staff. The only thing that slows you down is the long walk from your entry gate to the exit. There is a magnificent fairly new bridge to Sweden with plenty of capacity for the limited volumes of traffic wanting to use it, financed by a toll. In Sweden the roads were capacious and relatively clear of traffic, although speeds are limited. I got to my destination half an hour early. I can’t remember when that last happened to me in the UK. On my return I faced even longer queues at Heathrow for daring to have a British (so-called EU) passport, more jams to get out of the car park, and more jams on the inadequate roads around the airport.

France and Germany have 50% more motorway style road relative to their geographical size and populations than we do; Sweden probably even more. Most continental countries have large airport facilities where they are trying to attract more business, not seeking to limit it as at Heathrow. If this government wishes to help competitiveness – and limit unnecessary emissions by allowing more efficient use of vehicles – it must get on with allowing more private investment in roads and airport capacity. The present policy is not stopping people travelling, but it is making them very grumpy when they have to, and is creating more waste of energy than is desirable. The plane that brought me back to London had to circle London for some time before landing and then had wait around 15 minutes on the ground with the engines on before a stand became available. In Munich and Copenhagen the planes landed immediately on arrival and went straight to the stand and switched off. We should stop wasting fuel by having enough capacity, and by asking airlines to move their planes on the ground using smaller vehicles to tow or tug them.

I find it interesting that greens seem to like continental countries more than the USA or the UK because they talk the talk on greenery and are keen on targets. If you examine the record you find that in recent years leading continental countires have often increased CO2 emissions more than the US and some have failed to hit their targets. They have certainly tried to expand transport facilities more than the UK, but this may not be the cause of the excess emissions, given the way they are calculated and the impact congestion and delay has on the figures.


  1. Stuart Fairney
    April 17, 2008

    Now you are singing my song!

    It seems remarkable to me that people can readily define a problem (congested roads) and not take the logical next step to increase capacity. In almost every other field, shortage suggests increased supply, but with roads people seem obsessed with the idea of rationing.

    Which leads me on to what the heck the government has been doing for the last ten years? I've had lots of lectures to use the train (can't they are full and expensive and don't take me where I need to go), seriously increased road taxes (fuel duty, road tax, insurance tax) increased congestion, more lectures, less places to park, obsessive enforcement of arbitary speed limits (yep, Jan 1st around 9am on the M4, me and two members of the Avon & Somerset constabulary, my protestations that this was a pointless prosecution since we were the only two on the road ~ ignored), more taxes, more lectures, monet spent in favoured consultants, reams of paper, but no actual progress, and my journey times (and hence emissions if they care about that) have gone up.

    About as neat a definition of failure as you might reasonably hope for. I'm just not sure "Dave" has the stomach for much road building.

  2. James
    April 17, 2008

    Such is the low regard for politicians these days that feel you have to punctuate your first sentence with an assurance that the taxpayer didn't pick up the bill. It is a shame that honest politicians, such as yourself, deem this a necessity.

  3. Peetr Turner
    April 17, 2008

    It must be rememberd that for more than 10 years we have had a government that actually believed that reducing road construction would reduce traffic density. This was accompanied by a Green Movement which claimed that most of our green and pleasant land would be soon covered in concrete (anyone flying over this country of ours soon realises that such a claim is a load of nonesense) and our government concurred. So for more than 10 years nothing was done. For some unexplained reason our present government hates transport of all types unless it, the government, has specifically approved the form of transport in question. Even then the government we are talking about cannot make it work well.

  4. Iain
    April 17, 2008

    I think there are very different population densities between England, France and Germany, especially the number of people the British state is trying to cram in SE England.

    As for Heathrow the problem there has been that they have been allowed to opperate close to capacity, to screw every last cent out of it, regardless of the experience they were giving to their customers, with British Governments complicit in it , having rolled over to any of BAA's increased capacity demands and expansion requirements.

  5. APL
    April 17, 2008

    JR: "even on a motorway where the theoretical top speed is only 70 mph."

    The theoretical top speed is a lot higher than 70mph! The legal top speed is 70mph.

    Stewart Fairney: "Which leads me on to what the heck the government has been doing for the last ten years?"

    Wasn't an 'intergrated transport' policy the jewel in the crown of the former deputy prime minister? Ah! that would explain why nothing has been achieved, then.

    Stewart Fairney:"I’m just not sure “Dave” has the stomach for much road building."

    This is the whole problem with the Tories, they havn't the courage or backbone to release the catch on the ratchet of socialist policies, they would much rather 'go with the flow'. To all intents and purposes, the Tories have proven themselves to be useless, oh! and infiltrated to the core with socialists too.

  6. Tony Makara
    April 17, 2008

    David Cameron's recent promise to support the supply-side with an improved transport infrastructure is definitely a step in the right direction. Much of our road network looks and feels uncoordinated and has been created piecemeal with no proper planning. We could do with a Harold Ickes type character to drag our transport system into the 21st century. After all with 5.4 million languishing on benefit we certainly would have no trouble providing the manpower. Governments in the 1930s were very successful in utilizing redundant manpower, making it waged, and applying it to create the great transport systems that still serve Europe and the United States today. Something equally ambitious should be done here, but does any politician have the will to invest in such a vast undertaking?

  7. Campbell McNeill
    April 17, 2008


    As you may know, there is very little domestic air travel in France, due to the TGV.

    Just think how we could free up airport capacity in the UK by creating high speed rail links between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham etc to London.

    If I could get to London in 2 hours by train then I wouldn't ever consider flying!

    Possibly something has to be done to allow this kind of project to happen, the French wont let anything stand in their way!

  8. NigelC
    April 17, 2008

    I can only agree. When returing from holiday in France I am ashamed when exiting the Eurotunnel at Folkestone by the poor state of our roads and the congestion. Our long jouneys through France are relatively trouble and congestion free. Driving around the south east, in particluar, is a nightmare. But the Government is intent on ever more housebuilding and cramming more people into this part of the country.

  9. Matthew Reynolds
    April 17, 2008

    I agree with you John ! On public services we can learn from Europe with matched private money for transport , vouchers for schools and social insurance for health . Mr Cameron should send his transport spokesman to Germany , his schools spokesman to Sweden and health spokesman to France . Then we could get Mrs Villiers , Mr Gove and Mr Lansley learning from the relevant ministers in those respective nations about how to improve UK transport , schools and hospitals . All we need are Tory frontbenchers taking the best ideas that work so well abroad and adapting them for the UK. Gordon Brown cannot produce policies to address the concerns of voters in the South of England as the Unions will not let him. As a result by offering freemarket & localist policies we can pick up many votes from the growing number of voters losing faith in Labour's centralised , top down and high spending agenda that has failed . Right – wing policies can produce outcomes desired by the left – social insurance means BUPA style healthcare for the poor , vouchers will ensure higher education standards for those whose parents cannot afford private school fees and private investment means that a greener transport policy is possible ( just read the relevant chapters in John's excellent book Singing The Blues ). By learning from abroad we can show that we are an outward looking , open minded Party that wants modern policies designed to produce a compassionate outcome. Well done John ! We can do not need the Constitutional Treaty or the Euro to benefit from sound ideas that work well in EU nations ! We can see off the Lib Dems by denying them space on the centre -right – by copying Labour we risk opening up room for them on the centre -right . Adopting the policies I suggest will win votes & seats as Labour cannot offer what voters want ( due to their union paymasters living in the 1970's ) and the Lib Dems will never be in office to deliver anything . They turned down Labour in the Welsh Assembly , shunned the SNP in the Scottish Parliament and face their third time in third place in the London Mayoral elections . Even if they offer the polcies that I suggest – they will never be in office and are a wasted vote .

  10. Pascal
    April 17, 2008

    When they opened a new extension on the A12 at the west of Paris, an engineer being interviewed was asked for future plans.

    His reply was that this was as much as would be built on this particular motorway, and that whatever traffic jams there would be its limiting factor to perpetual traffic expansion.

    The problem in the Uk is not always the lack of roads, but the perpetual presence of roadworks.

    I have lived here for more than 22 years, and I have yet to use the M2 and not see roadworks on it for example. I cannot remember driving more than 10mins from my home and encounter roadworks somewhere.

    Maybe a start would be to make sure that what exists is done properly.

    Incidentally, Munich airport coming from the UK just shows the contrast between a rich country, and one that thinks it is.

    Lastly, 100mph ? Was there traffic ? Last time I was there, the lady taxi driver was nudging 200kmh…

  11. Pascal
    April 17, 2008

    I meant "and not encountering roadworks" in the 4th paragraph…

  12. Blue Eyes
    April 17, 2008

    The Germans take a very long-term view on investment in infrastructure. Even during their recent round of fiscal tightening they are still undertaking a huge expansion in their motorway network because they know it makes sense for people to be able to get around the country quickly, easily and safely. Their railways are truly excellent and because of the long term strategy I believe they are not so heavily subsidised as our own because the government doesn't have to panic every ten years when a rail breaks.

  13. Rose
    April 17, 2008

    Following on from Culloden, this old Scottish saying for my favourite motorist:

    "If you had seen these roads before they were made
    You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade"

  14. Patrick
    April 17, 2008

    There are whole swathes of the public realm where a much higher level of investment has been overlooked for a decade. Roads, defence, flood defences, prisons, etc, etc.

    Do have done this would require a basic level of honest and competent government – not exactly New Labour's forte. Much better for them to pay a GP twice as much to deliver less or to sink cash in into paying teachers and LEAs more to reduce choice in state schools. These things satisfy their client state ideology.

    We have third world infrastructure in the UK now and will need a generation to rebuild it. An even tougher nut for an incoming Tory administration to crack will be the pervasive mentality of green socialism and benefits dependence.

    The horror of New Labour is not merely the actual damage done but that they seem to have sucked out our collective will to stand up for ourselves and deal with issues in a sensible fashion. There will be PC nimbyism at every turn if PM Cameron has the guts to resolve our problems. Expect the miner's strikes all over again.

    Thanks Tony. Thanks Gordon.

  15. Freeborn John
    April 17, 2008

    I lived in Munich at the time when the ‘new’ airport opened in 1992. The previous airport was of a different vintage entirely; perhaps you can picture it from scenes of the Manchester United ‘Munich disaster’ in 1958 or the shootout following the terrorist attack on the 1972 Olympics. It still looked exactly like the photos from the 1958 crash by the time it closed. Like Heathrow, the old Munich airport was inside the city limits, and was difficult to reach by public transport. Once the new airport opened the old one was used as a nightclub for a while and you could dance around the check-in areas! I wonder if that will ever happen at Heathrow?

    I used to think of Stansted airport and the new Munich airport as twins. They opened about the same time and both seemed to be set in spacious surroundings with peaceful (compared to LHR) terminal buildings and decent train links. But Stansted now seems totally overwhelmed by the low-cost airline boom, with the woefully inadequate number of immigration officials being my main bugbear. Over Easter I used Luton airport and thought it better.

    Whenever I return to Munich I am always interested to see the equivalent of their ‘tube map’. Unlike the transport network map of S.E. England the Munich map seems to be a living thing; every year there seems to be an extension to a tube line here or a new station there. There is now a 2nd S-bahn line to the airport and plans for Shanghai-style maglev train. Somehow they seem to combine an integrated transport system in Munich (presumably operated by the public sector) while retaining imagination, entrepreneurial spirit and organisational ability. It always amazes me that ALL the S-bahn lines in Munich converge on a single tunnel under central Munich with trains running just 2-minutes apart through this one tunnel. If the chaps from S.W. Trains were running that system this tunnel would be a single point of failure that brought the whole system to stand-still several times a day. Yet it all works like clockwork in Munich.

    What distinguishes Heathrow from other airports in Europe is not the airport itself (which is rather good) but the sheer level of congestion in the region which it serves combined with inadequate ground transportation links. We also have a set of airports in London (which is eco-friendly as you can use the nearest) but they are not joined up by anything but road making transfers between them nigh-on impossible. Frankly we really need much bigger thinking on transport in the UK than anyone seems to contemplate; a maglev “UK metro” for example to join up our cities and airports for example.

  16. mikestallard
    April 17, 2008

    You are so right.
    We came back from Bangkok yesterday or so and landed at Birmingham. Excellent. Loads of people at immigration where they were polite and kind. We sailed through to find our baggage waiting for us. Dual carriageway almost all the way home compared very well with both Bangkok and Singapore (both third world apparently).
    I can remember when the Conservatives were in power that road building was pretty impressive. Stanstead (in those far off days) was a real pleasure.
    It is entirely the Labour/Green fiasco as the post above shows so clearly which has introduced chaos into our once pretty impressive system.

  17. Gareth O'Shea
    April 17, 2008

    The public transport in this country is a disgrace. I choose not to own a car, and so make do with walking or using public transport.

    I suspect that a lot of the congestion on our roads could genuinely be reduced if we had a competant public transport policy – buses and trains that run frequently, on time and for reasonable expense.

    It seems that year on year the cost of rail travel goes up at a rate that exceeds inflation, with the railway companies citing rising costs – this doesnt make much sense to me. Yes the costs will rise with inflation, but they shouldnt rise so high, surely?

    What we need to see are reduced fares and a more reliable service.

  18. Donitz
    April 17, 2008

    Only the economically active should be allowed to use the roads between 8am and 8pm.

    If you don't pay tax or if you claim benefits get off the roads to help make the economy more efficient.

    "No representation without taxation"

  19. Bazman
    April 17, 2008

    As I remember the Green issues where a gift to the Tories to cut costs by not building any roads and to gain middle class political capital at that moment in time.
    The mantra of 'roads produce cars' is fantasy. Factories produce cars. Work the rest out.
    Do you think Germans put up with this nonsense. The the truth is though, smooth autobahns are bumper to bumper around Munich and other cities with German businessmen on the 155 mph limiters of their BMW's and Mercedes, but if you drive on the smaller B roads you will find this is not the full picture.
    The airports should be forced to employ more people, cost cutting again.

  20. Rose
    April 18, 2008

    You write from the heart as Wokingham Man. May I add some countervailing points from Provincial Urban Woman whose vote you need to consider too?

    1) The Swedes have a very small population and a large land mass.
    2) The US has a very low speed limit and a huge land mass.
    3) The speeding Germans are notorious for their brutality in hitting and running.
    4) Our annual butchery on the roads (3,000 deaths and 40,000 injuries) makes Culloden look gentle.
    5) Look at this web-site for an Austrian angle:

    6) What Heath loved most about Continental Europe was its ability to ram roads through anywhere without asking. As Enoch sadly remarked: "Does every generation have to learn again the lesson that there are more important things than that the trains should run on time?"
    7) Our seriously poisonous, dangerous, and deafening traffic chaos has resulted from our glorious liberty, as did our sewage in the streets in the 19th century. We finally dealt with that once the Prince Consort and the PM's son-in-law had died from typhoid (by installing main drainage) without losing our liberties, though people at the time thought we would, so why can't we now do the same with traffic pollution? Strange that the deaths of Princess Grace and the late Princess of Wales have not had a similar effect. And what about all those pop singers who died on the roads?
    8) Stats: Next time you go to a nice little Nordic country remember we have more people on the dole (by more than a quarter) than the entire population of Norway, and almost half a million more than the population of Denmark. We have as many people not working as the population of Sweden.

    9)If we want to take lessons in transport, we should look at Japan, a group of islands with a very dense population (120 million) which has worked out a way of living cheek by jowl in tranquility. Kansai airport (built out in the sea out of consideration for other people) beats anything the Europeans could lay on when it comes to efficiency and good manners. Do try it. It feels as if you are the only passenger when you arrive. And the trains, trams, buses and roads (on which no-one is allowed to park) give you a marvellous choice of getting around.

    Reply: If you read my other writings you will see I fully appreciate the many drawbacks of the European model in many other respects!

  21. Derek W. Buxton
    April 18, 2008

    Unfortunately although Mr. Redwood is correct, don't expect to see the same sense emanating from the leader and his chums, they've been "greened". A very stupid position to be in since by definition it means that you reduce growth in eveything that matters. But maybe that is what the "greens" want, us all living in the open eating grass. Mind you I expect they will be living high on the hog until the money runs out since they do not understand how the money is generated in the first place. It reminds me of the latter stages in "The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy", the PR men, hairdressers and the like were sent of to a far off planet as an advance party, no one else followed, they were well rid of the idlers. Any one willing to donate a space craft to hold the odd two hundred or so MPs? Sorry but it will not be returning.

  22. Stuart Fairney
    April 18, 2008

    Rose, come on, you are being fast and loose with the facts

    "Our seriously poisonous, dangerous, and deafening traffic chaos has resulted from our glorious liberty"

    I value my liberty above almost all else and commute by road extensively and have done so for more than a decade yet I am neither poisoned, nor more dangerous nor deaf.

    (Sentence deleted)

  23. Adrian Peirson
    April 26, 2008

    It seems remarkable to me that people can readily define a problem (congested roads) and not take the logical next step to increase capacity.


    the correct solution is to reduce the Population, thereby not only reducing congestion but pollution, crime, prison overcrowding, the housing shortage, NHS and welfare Overstretch. rubbish disposal
    We also get to leave our children a Much more Beautifull Britain.

  24. John Baxter-Smith
    April 28, 2008

    I was surprised to find you of all people praising any aspect of anything ‘European’ but I gather from various comments I have seen of yours you do accept that many things that are handled badly here are done in a much better way in other parts of Europe. It may be an overstatement to say that every other EU country does everything better than here, but I cannot think of too many things that are done better here than everywhere else in Europe. Education, health, roads, standard of living, quality of life etc. etc.
    I wanted to pick up on the one aspect you mentioned, that on you return to Heathrow there were long queues at Passport control owing to a lack of staff and positions on your return form Munich and again on your return from Copenhagen you faced even longer queues at Heathrow for daring to have a British (so-called EU) passport.
    I don’t know when you last travelled by car via Calais/Dover, but there, after driving for hours on uncongested roads, you will undoubtedly join a huge queue way back on the motorway link road caused by understaffed overzealous border control police whose sole aim seems to be to ensure you miss your planned ferry. I have also heard horror stories of having to queue longer at Stansted for passport control than the flight lasted. Even last week, travelling via the Tunnel at an extremely quiet period, it took several minutes for a sour faced official to check through a single Dutch family car. I then was delayed for quite a while as the same official required to know, where I had been, how long I had been ‘away’, why I had been away, what my business was, who I worked for etc. etc. I dread to think how long the queue would have been had it been a busy holiday period. US immigration has long been infamous for the horrendous queues and slow processing of arrivals, but getting into the US is an absolute doddle now compared with being an Englishman trying to get back into his home country from another part of Europe
    I travel quite frequently around Europe, often by car where it is quite a pleasure still. The roads are usually relatively uncongested in comparison with England and I can travel freely though France, Belgium, and Holland to Germany without once being stopped to prove my identity or being questioned about whom I am or what my business is. Even crossing from England to France is relatively straightforward, often just a friendly wave from the border guard and that’s it. One of the fundamentals of being part of the EU is our right of freedom of travel. Even our passports (which cost an exorbitant amount, but which are not necessary for other EU citizens within Europe who have the benefit of inexpensive of free ID cards for travel) have the comical statement “'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance” It’s just a shame the border police here don’t heed that request.
    US immigration has long been infamous for the horrendous queues and slow processing of arrivals, but getting into the US is an absolute doddle now with here. It’s a joke to many other Europeans and certainly is very unfriendly and unwelcoming to visitors to this country.

    Reply: I don't agree about all your favourable comparisons, but I do about roads and border policing. I will look in to the issue of delays at the Channel ports as you make an important point.

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