As mentioned in my previous article, Cameron should be proud of his legacy on the whole. But if there is one issue the last government fudged over far too much, it was airport expansion. Cameron stated that a decision on airport expansions in the South-East would take place this summer. However, his departure has thrown into doubt how soon the new Government will make a decision on the issue. There is still a considerable amount of controversy over HS2. With Chris Grayling now occupying the position of Transport Secretary, it will be interesting to analyse what his most likely course of action will be over HS2.
Firstly, Ben Riley-Smith, Political Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, has reported that Grayling privately expressed back in 2009 that he would like to see Heathrow Airport expanded in the future. Despite this, he made his views known to the public that same year that he opposed Heathrow expansion. Hitherto, his true views on Heathrow expansion are unclear. Nonetheless, if his private views have not changed since 2009, then it would be more likely that he will push for Heathrow to have a third runway, and not Gatwick. Either way, the future of a third runway at Heathrow or Gatwick is not clear.
Furthermore, regardless of which airport he chooses to have a third runway, he will need to overcome opposition from many of his new Cabinet colleagues. Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary, has said building another runway at Heathrow is not a ‘smart decision.’
Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary, has campaigned against airport expansion since he started his tenure as London Mayor in 2008.
Nevertheless, John Stewart, the chair of the campaign against Heathrow, also claimed Theresa May attended a meeting in 2008 and criticised the project. Therefore, it is not just Grayling’s views over Heathrow expansion that need to be clarified in the event of a decision being made on airport expansion, but the opinions of his Cabinet colleagues too. If the Cabinet refuses to support Grayling’s plans over airport expansion, it is more than likely that the new Government will continue to fudge over this issue as much as the last one.
Grayling will be responsible for overseeing HS2 in his new role as Transport Secretary. But like with Heathrow expansion, Grayling’s views on HS2 are unclear. Stop HS2 are calling on Grayling to reconsider the previous government’s plans on building HS2. According to Stop HS2, the Department of Transport and the Treasury still gave the green light for HS2 to speed ahead (pardon the pun) despite HS2 Ltd failing to pass Review Point 1. The National Audit Office has reported that HS2 Ltd had a £9 billion overrun. The cost of HS2 has now increased to £63 billion. HS2 confirmed that they found £9 billion of savings, but £2 billion has only been confirmed thus far.
According to Stop HS2, the only time that either May or Grayling have come close to expressing an opinion on HS2 was when the entire cabinet was sent on a road trip for the confirmation of Phase 2 in January 2013. Mr. Grayling’s voting record on HS2 is patchy considering he did not vote on the second reading of HS2 for ‘unknown reasons’. Nevertheless, he did vote for it at the third reading.
Like with airport expansion, regardless of his true opinion on HS2, plans to continue with HS2 are likely to be met with opposition. Many Conservative MPs oppose HS2 due to the overwhelming opposition to HS2 in the Tory heartlands. Andrea Leadsom, the new Environment Secretary, is reported to be an opponent of HS2 as well. With a slim majority of 12, the new Government is going to encounter extreme difficulties legislating HS2 as well. The majority of Conservative MPs are not united behind the Government on this issue.
Despite a fresh face in the Department of Transport, the future of airport expansion and HS2 are both unclear. What is also not clear is the new Transport Secretary’s views on these issues. What is likely is that we can expect more delays over these two crucial issues.