The Week in Parliament
The big news this week has focussed on the imminent independence of Kent (I may have stopped reading that story halfway through) and the new coronavirus restrictions being imposed to control the resurgence of the virus (if you haven’t downloaded the app yet, please do so). But as ever, things rumble on beneath the service which don’t make the headlines. The big consultation story this week was the dire response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act which I wrote about here. So what have we seen in Parliament this week?
In a previous edition of this column (16th July, for those wishing to refer back) we highlighted the Government’s purchase of 27 acres of land outside Ashford in Kent on which to build a lorry park to relieve pressures on border infrastructure. Having not consulted local residents then, it seems the same thing might apply to more future development in that region. Raised in Parliament by Rachel Reeves this week was a statutory instrument made on 3rd, and coming into force today which would allow the Government to give planning permission for further border related infrastructure without consulting local stakeholders.
The snappily titled The Town and Country Planning (Border Facilities and Infrastructure) (EU Exit) (England) Special Development Order 2020 highlights 29 different areas across the country where Ministers may unilaterally and without public engagement undertake significant infrastructure work to support goods coming across the border. There are few restrictions on how this may be done, and few bodies that the Government must liaise with. There is no sunset clause.
At the moment, there seems to have been little outcry over this, no doubt it has been overshadowed by the more dramatic story about the Border controls that lorries will be required to comply with to enter the county of Kent. For us however, it raises huge question marks about how Ministers intend to use their new powers. Curiously, some of the areas covered by the regulation include places which are as far from the coast and borders as it is possible to be. Although this could be for the siting of clerical or office-based border services, it still seems curious. Expect this one to blow up in the next couple of months as MPs start getting letters from constituents asking why they were not consulted on the new lorry park being built next door.
As an addendum to this, last week saw the return of the Shared Prosperity Fund. At the end of TWIP last week I speculated that the idea of consulting on the SPF may have been dropped in favour of using the Internal Market Bill to bring it about. We may have more evidence of that from this week. Asked again about the SPF, Michael Gove responded “The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will outline how the shared prosperity fund will be distributed”. Does that sound like they are about to consult on it? Or more like they’ve made a decision already? If the latter, then I can do no better than to repeat the question I levied last week: what was the justification for ditching a consultation on what looked like it was going to be a fairly controversial new financing mechanism?