848: The second Queen’s speech and Heathrow delay
Today’s entry reports on the second Queen’s speech of the year.
The Queen opened the 58th Parliament of the United Kingdom with her second speech in a mere 66 days, the last one having been on 14 October 2019.
The Queen’s Speech background briefing document is clearly a newer version of the previous one. However, it is well worth checking out the differences between the two sets of notes. The introductory text has changed a fair amount; the list of bills is largely the same, although some additional things have been added to most of them. The buzz phrase ‘level[ling] up’ appears 20 times.
In terms of infrastructure planning, the long-awaited and long-overdue National Infrastructure Strategy is now to coincide with the budget, likely to be in February or March 2020. Of its two aims (productivity and climate change), the explanatory text for the latter remains the same, but the former changes from:
‘To help close the productivity gap between London and other parts of the country – so all places are able to benefit from vital infrastructure and better living standards helping people get better access to opportunities and jobs.’
‘Unleash Britain’s potential by levelling up and connecting every part of the country. Prosperity will be shared across all of the UK, and long-standing economic challenges addressed, through responsible and prudent investment in the infrastructure.’
Make of that what you will. It will be made easier for telecoms companies to install their infrastructure in blocks of flats through primary legislation, via a Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill. ‘Gigabit-capable’ broadband will be rolled out across the UK.
A White Paper will be published to ‘reiterate our commitment to levelling up opportunities and investment in the regions across England’. A review of business rates is new.
In new text, a Planning White Paper will be introduced in the coming months, which ‘will make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users, including homeowners and small businesses. It will also address resourcing and performance in Planning Departments.’ As a lawyer, I rejoice when the government (frequently) says it will make the planning process clearer, as it always makes it more complicated.
Newly, there will be railways minimum services legislation to maintain services during strike action. There will also be a White Paper on reforming the rail franchise system.
The HS2 phase 2a bill is expected to be revived, without prejudice to the Oakervee review, which is looking at ‘whether and how’ to proceed with HS2.
The Environment Bill will be revived, which establishes the Office for Environmental Protection, increases local authority air pollution powers, introduces charges for single-use plastics and, newly, will ban exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
In new text on climate change, it is noted that the global summit on climate change (COP 26) will be in Glasgow in November 2020. There will be investment in carbon capture, offshore wind, nuclear energy and electric charging points (no-one will be more than 30 miles from a charging point) (and note, electricity storage is not mentioned). The offshore wind target will be increased from 30GW to 40GW by 2030. £800 million will be invested in carbon capture for a cluster by the mid-2020s (reviving most of the £1 billion that was cancelled four years ago).
Meanwhile it has been announced that the Heathrow expansion is to be delayed by up to three years, until 2028 or 2029. The reason given is that the Civil Aviation Authority is not allowing Heathrow Airport Ltd to charge as much as it wanted to, to raise the money to promote the DCO as quickly as it wanted to. The CAA’s group director said:
‘Timeliness is not the only factor that is important to consumers. Passengers cannot be expected to bear the risk of Heathrow Airport Limited spending too much in the early phases of development, should planning permission not be granted.’
The Conservative manifesto was determinedly neutral on the subject:
‘Parliament has voted in principle to support a third runway at Heathrow, but it is a private sector project. It is for Heathrow to demonstrate that it can meet its air quality and noise obligations, that the project can be financed and built and that the business case is realistic. The scheme will receive no new public money.’
When asked during the election campaign whether he would still lie in front of the bulldozers, Boris Johnson said:
‘I don’t see much sign of any bulldozers yet…I would have to find some way of honouring that promise. It might be technically difficult to achieve.’
The Christmas champagne competition is still running until 2 January – try your luck (and skill)! Details can be found at the end of the previous blog entry.