Elizabeth Truss has retained the environment secretary post.
The Oxford graduate and qualified accountant granted development consent for the controversial £4bn Thames Tideway Tunnel within months of landing the cabinet role last year.
She said last October: “In the 21st century, London should not have a river that is polluted by sewage every time there is heavy rainfall. The Thames Tunnel is considered to be the best solution to address London’s outdated sewerage infrastructure.”
Although Southwark Council failed in a legal challenge to the super sewer, opposition to the Thames Water scheme remains high. Construction is not due to begin until 2016 and it is bound to keep Truss occupied in the meantime.
Truss also played a big part in bringing in planning guidelines to boost the use of sustainable drainage systems (Suds) in a bid to reduce flooding.
A consultation was announced last autumn on a plan to set an “expectation” through the planning system that suds would be provided in new developments of at least 10 houses or equivalent size.
Truss said then: “We have sought an approach which meets Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations, enables a rapid roll-out of sustainable drainage solutions at a local level and allows local planning authorities to best address site-specific local surface water run-off management concerns.”
Following the consultation, guidelines came into force just before the last Parliament closed, and keeping an eye on their impact on flooding and development will be a key brief for Truss this term.
Beyond this ongoing issue, Truss will of course be desperate to avoid a repeat of the floods that ravaged the country two winters ago. Images of flood-hit communities tend to make the front pages and do little to calm politicians’ heart rates.
Another key issue for Truss is complying with court rulings to slash air pollution in certain parts of the country. The UK Supreme Court last month followed the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in ordering the government to produce plans to cut nitrogen dioxide levels to below the limits set out in the Air Quality Directive.
Friends of the Earth called for the government to scrap all future road building projects in the wake of the ECJ verdict and, although that appears unthinkable, Truss will have to find a way to reduce emissions while supporting Highways England’s ambitious building programme.
Top three infrastructure items in Truss’s in-tray:
- Reducing air pollution
- Enforcing suds rules and managing flood risk
- Supporting the Thames Tideway Tunnel