970: All change again in the Rishuffle
Today’s entry analyses the new cabinet and other news.
It was only seven blogs ago, ie seven weeks ago, that we were analysing a new set of DCO-related secretaries of state. Well, they’ve all changed again.
For Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, we revert to Michael Gove, who was in that post between September 2021 and July 2022 when he was the one minister to be sacked amongst all the resignations.
That means that the bill introduced during his first stint, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, containing such things as replacement of environmental impact assessment, is presumably going ahead as planned.
Indeed it carried on during the interregnum and has now finished its committee stage in the commons but with no date yet for its report stage. The bill has been republished following committee stage, and although Part 5 on EIA reform did not change, all its clause numbers have increased by two, due to additional clauses being inserted earlier. The new version of the bill can be found here, and environmental outcomes reports are now defined in clause 119 instead of 117.
On the last day of the bill’s committee stage, two Labour amendments were considered that would require the reinstatement of onshore wind in the Planning Act 2008 and the National Planning Policy Framework, given their apparent green light in the Growth Plan. The committee report is here. In response, the minister Lee Rowley was somewhat sceptical, saying:
‘Given the salience and importance of this policy issue to our broader national discourse, I suggest that it be considered more broadly than simply in this Committee. We will bring forward further information about our continuing commitments and intentions in this area in due course.’
For Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which had been rumoured to be being split in two but isn’t, we get Grant Shapps, erstwhile six-day Home Secretary. He is no stranger to DCOs as he was Secretary of State for Transport for over three years.
He is not a fan of onshore wind, unfortunately (see here for example), so its brief resurgence in the Growth Plan, already downplayed in the bill committee, can be expected to be extinguished.
His views on solar are unknown (by me, anyway) but his boss said we need to make sure ‘our fields are used for food production and not solar panels’ during the second most recent leadership contest.
It means that his predecessor, Jacob Rees-Mogg, never decided a DCO; his only action was to postpone a decision on the Boston Alternative Energy project. Indeed, to note for the Planning Act pub quiz, only one DCO was decided during the Liz Truss premiership, for the A47 / A11 Thickthorn Junction project.
The Prime Minister said, at his first Prime Minister’s Questions on 26 October 2022, in response to a question on onshore wind:
‘The important thing is to focus on our long term energy security. That means more renewables, more offshore wind, and indeed more nuclear. That’s what this government wants.’
He also confirmed that the moratorium on shale gas extraction / fracking has been reinstated and the position returned to the 2019 manifesto commitment, which is:
‘We placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect. Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.’
It was the chaos during a vote to reverse the reversal of that that was the last straw for the Liz Truss premiership.
For Transport we have Mark Harper, who was chief whip from 2015-16 and until last week chaired the Covid Recovery Group, the group of anti-lockdown Conservative MPs.
He has the next two DCO applications to decide, both due by 16 November 2022, for the A417 Missing Link and A57 Link Roads projects. He probably won’t be able to take the first one of those himself as his constituency of Forest of Dean is nearby to the west.
Finally, for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we have Thérèse Coffey, most recently Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. She was a junior minister in Defra from 2016 to 2019 so should know the ropes. She will have a DCO to consent in February 2023.
She has supported renewable energy, albeit not solar specifically, although I have spotted an objection to a substation for the Nautilus Interconnector proposed for her constituency from a year ago.
One small item: the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project was in the Court of Appeal on 26 October 2022 to argue that it had commenced and that its DCO is therefore still alive. The judgment will probably be in a couple of months’ time.