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19 April 2017

751: What the election means for infrastructure

Today’s entry analyses the surprise news that there is to be a general election in 50 days’ time, on 8 June.

Now that a vote has taken place in Parliament to endorse an early general election by the requisite two-thirds of MPs (over 80%, in fact), Parliament is likely to sit until 2 May, whereupon it will be ‘dissolved’ (it being ‘adjourned’ between sittings and ‘prorogued’ between parliamentary sessions). The period of ‘purdah’, the convention that major decisions on policy and other controversial issues are not taken in the run-up to an election has been announced as starting on Friday 21 April.

There is already purdah in operation in relation to the mayoral and county council elections on 4 May, and what it all means for the Parliamentary by-election in Manchester Gorton on the same day is anybody’s guess.

Most projects will carry on as normal, although any major announcements relating to public sector projects will be deferred until after the election. There are one or two specific issues that will need to be ironed out, though, as follows.

Airports National Policy Statement

While the consultation on the draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) will continue as normal and end on 25 May as planned (despite Parliament having been dissolved by then), the Parliamentary scrutiny of the NPS is a different story.

Hearings were due to start on Monday 24 April, but have been postponed until after the election, because otherwise they would be in front of different committees with a gap in between.

Furthermore, standing order 122A of the House of Commons imposes a term limit on select committee chairs of two Parliaments (i.e. spans between general elections) or eight years, whichever is the longer, and Louise Ellman MP, the current chair, will have exceeded both of those following the general election. She may have to stand down in that role ‘unless the House otherwise orders’.

Decisions on Development Consent Order applications

No decisions on Development Consent Order (DCO) applications were made before the 2010 election and fortuitously there were none due between 10 March and 20 May 2015, the election having been on 7 May.

This time, however, the next decision is due on the very day of the election, 8 June, namely the Richborough Connection application. Although Parliament does not exist until reconvened after the election, the government does continue to exist, although conventionally does not take policy-related or other controversial decisions during an election campaign.

What happens to this one will depend on government-issued guidance on ‘purdah’. It remains to be seen whether the Richborough decision will be taken early to avoid the campaign, carry on as normal or be delayed beyond the three months it is supposed to take until a new government is formed.

The one after that is for the East Anglia ‘three’ offshore wind farm, and is due by 20 June, and unless the result of the election is not clear, a new government should be in place to take the decision by then.

Environmental Impact Assessment regulations

The UK is required to implement revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations by 16 May, there being versions for infrastructure planning and town and country planning, among others.

If the UK is to meet the deadline, it will have to lay the finalised regulations before Parliament before it is dissolved, which will mean getting a move on.

[Update: revised regulations were laid on the day of this post and come into force on 16 May. Expect a rush of screening and scoping opinions just beforehand.]