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08 November 2019

845: What the general election means for infrastructure planning

Today’s entry looks at the implications of the announcement of a general election in December.

In consequence of the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019, there is to be a general election on Thursday 12 December 2019.  That is still less time since the 2015 election than there was between the 2010 and 2015 elections.  What is the likely effect of this on infrastructure planning?

More decisions may be deferred

The next four decisions on Development Consent Order (DCO) applications are due in a bunch between 5 and 12 December.  They are two windfarms (Norfolk Vanguard and the Thanet extension) and two highways (Lake Lothing crossing and A303 Sparkford (not Stonehenge)).

In 2017, the election date of 8 June was announced on 25 April and Parliament was dissolved on 3 May.  One decision (Richborough) was due on election day and was postponed by nearly two months until 3 August.  Another was due shortly afterwards (East Anglia Three, 28 June) and was postponed until 7 August.  The statement to Parliament delaying both decisions did not give any reasons. In 2015, Parliament was dissolved on 30 March and the election was on 7 May.  No DCO decisions were due in that period and the next one (Whitemoss) took place on time on 20 May.

Given that history, it is likely that all four due on the day of or shortly before this year’s election will be delayed, but it is still possible that they aren’t. Update: it has been confirmed that the Lake Lothing Third Crossing decision, due on 5 December, has been delayed – see hear.

Secretaries of State may change

If there is a change of the party of government from the Conservatives to another party or a coalition not involving the Conservatives then the decision-makers will obviously change.  If there is a coalition involving the Conservatives then they may change.  If there is a Conservative government they still may change as (a) the Prime Minister may carry out a reshuffle even though his government was only formed recently, (b) he may rejig government departments with an attendant reshuffle or (c) Secretaries of State may lose their individual seats and have to be changed (either directly or as a knock-on effect).  Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, has a majority of 7,369 in Welwyn Hatfield, and Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has a majority of 22,840 in South Northamptonshire. Boris Johnson’s majority is only 5,034 for that matter, should he still stand in Uxbridge.

National Infrastructure Strategy delay

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was set up in October 2015 (and re-set up in January 2017) with a mandate to produce a National Infrastructure Assessment once at Parliament.  It produced one on 10 July 2018.  In its ‘charter’ produced when the NIC was set up, the government undertook to aim to respond to the NIA within six months and ‘never longer than a year’.  10 July 2019 came and went without any response or any apparent concerns (except from me) and a National Infrastructure Strategy was eventually promised by this autumn.  This was reiterated in the briefing accompanying October’s Queen’s Speech.  That is now almost certainly a casualty of the election and I can’t see it being published until the new year – possibly longer if there is a change of government.

Party manifestos

The manifestos of the parties contesting the election have yet to be launched; it will be interesting to see what they say about encouraging new infrastructure in the context of Net Zero.

In that regard one early skirmish has been over fracking.  The government has announced a moratorium on fracking, and although the official press release states ‘Fracking will not be allowed to proceed in England, the government has announced today, following the publication of new scientific analysis’, there have been complaints from other parties that this is not permanent. The attendant announcement in Parliament does start by saying ‘The Government continues to recognise the importance of natural gas as a source of secure and affordable energy as we aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050’.

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