Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has retained his position in prime minister David Cameron’s new Cabinet, having held the post since September 2012.
McLoughlin’s retention as transport secretary will be welcomed by many in the industry after a period of great uncertainty when the position changed hands seven times in six years.
Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales, McLoughlin is a former coal miner and agricultural worker and served as a transport
minister during the reign of Margaret Thatcher.
McLoughlin took up the transport secretary position in Cameron’s first cabinet reshuffle. It had been widely expected that the then secretary Justine Greening would be ousted from poll position in transport amid speculation the Conservatives were keen to soften a previously vehement opposition to a Heathrow third runway. As a local MP for Putney in south west London, Greening had been one of the most vocal dissenting voices.
On his appointment, the independent Davies Commission was set up to create distance between the subjective government and to review the options for airport expansion in the South East. Due to report in the summer, the industry is waiting with bated breath to see how closely the government will follow the recommendation with the front runners Gatwick and Heathrow.
In full the three options are: Gatwick Airport’s proposal for a new runway to the south of the existing runway, Heathrow Airport’s proposal for one new 3.5km runway to the north west of the existing airport, and Heathrow Hub’s proposal to extend the existing northern runway to at least 6km.
McLoughlin will likely also be overseeing a major push into delivery of the, also controversial, High Speed 2 (HS2), as its first phase hybrid bill passes through parliament. The hope is for it to attain Royal Assent next year. Public criticism is well publicised and McLoughlin is familiar with the challenges, having come out fighting in defence of the much-maligned scheme a year into his role.
The parliamentary process is not considered an insurmountable challenge, though, as the scheme has maintained cross party support for years, with dissent being limited to the details rather than the overall philosophical question of whether the UK needs more high speed.
On highways, McLoughlin will oversee the newly formed government-owned company Highways England as it is devolved and
given more guaranteed long term spending power.
The big question here is how quickly the organisation, which supplanted the Highways Agency last month, can ramp up to deliver an eye-watering number of schemes backed by a large investment pledge.
Highways investment stalled at the beginning of the last government, and while the past couple of years has seen renewed commitment to spending in the sector, it now has to move quickly and efficiently to deliver the work.
The other key challenge in roads is who will take the helm at Highways England when Graham Dalton steps down as chief executive next month. Whoever it is will have to hit the ground running to deliver over the next five years:
- 112 major improvements, including 15 smart motorway projects providing an extra 450km of capacity, and resurfacing the majority of the network
- a more accessible road system delivering over 150 new cycling facilities and crossings, including 40 by the end of next year, and cycle-proofing new schemes
- a reduction of the number of people killed or seriously injured on the network by 40% from the 2010 baseline.
All with annual targets and a new level of government scrutiny.
Top three infrastructure items in McLoughlin’s in-tray:
- Moving ahead with the soon to be recommended airport expansion plan for the south east
- Pushing High Speed 2 through into full-on delivery mode
- Ensuring the newly formed Highways England comes good on significant investment plans
- NCE is this week running a series of articles looking at the key secretary of state posts and what they mean for infrastructure. More to follow.