759: What the election means for infrastructure
Today’s entry muses on the implications of the election results for infrastructure planning.
A tricky brief, but I’ll have a go, as we await details of what I hope will become known as the maydup government.
There is a new planning minister
Since the 2015-17 planning minister Gavin Barwell MP lost his seat in Croydon Central (and has already been given a job at 10 Downing Street), a new planning minister has had to be appointed, although the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will continue to be Sajid Javid.
The new planning minister is Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West since 2010. According to Wikipedia he supports Heathrow expansion, has campaigned for tougher penalties for dangerous drivers and fewer first class rail carriages and voted remain in the EU referendum.
Of the other decision-making (on Development Consent Order applications) departments, the only one to change at Secretary of State level is that Michael Gove has replaced Andrea Leadsom at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so any waste water or waste DCOs would be decided by him rather than her.
The make-up of parliamentary select committees will change
Membership of select committees must reflect the relative sizes of the parties in Parliament as a whole, including the ability to command a majority. For example, before the election the Transport Select Committee had six Conservative members, four Labour members (including its chair, Louise Ellman), and one SNP member. It should probably be six, five and one now, where the one could be SNP, Lib Dem or DUP.
There is also a rule that select committee chairs cannot serve more than eight years or two parliaments, whichever is the longer, the last two parliaments taking an unusually short seven years. Louise Ellman has done both and so unless the House of Commons makes an exception, must make way for a new chair.
Things will slow down, but not too much
At a conference yesterday Lord Adonis, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said that its Vision and Priorities document, precursor to its National Infrastructure Assessment, would come out this autumn. It used to be this summer.
Air passenger demand forecasts promised during the Airports National Policy Statement consultation (see paragraph 1.2) were not in fact issued before it closed in May (and still haven’t been).
The decision on the Richborough connection project DCO application was due on election day, 8 June, but has not been issued yet.
Those are symptoms of general elections getting in the way of government decision-making and related work and we should expect further delays. The lack of change at secretary of state level for most government departments should mean there is less temptation to do a full-scale review of spending, which may mean the delays are relatively short-lived.
In the longer term, one of the things that might slow down is Brexit. The start of negotiations has already been postponed from 19 June (as has the Queen’s Speech, to take into account deal-making plus ink-drying time), and without a majority the government may need more of a consensus across Parliament, which will inevitably take longer. The EU might also string things out in the hope that the UK does not in the end leave. Either way, planning-related legislation derived from EU Directives such as environmental impact assessment, habitats, air quality and water quality, may well be hanging around beyond 29 March 2019.