Queen's Speech: Transport and infrastructure key to union's levelling up

11/05/2021
Dominic Browne

The Government used the Queen's Speech to make infrastructure investment a core element of its future 'levelling up' plans.

The speech also indicated that extra infrastructure investment would be part of the Government's pitch to voters in the devolved nations to maintain support for the union.

Unveiling the Government's new legislative programme, the Queen said: 'My Government will strengthen the economic ties across the union, investing in and improving the national infrastructure. 'Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus and to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband.'

”Local
The Queen reads the speech on Tuesday

While transport is largely a devolved policy area in Scotland, the careful wording in the Queen's Speech comes after another successful election night for the Scottish National Party last week, and rising clamour for a second Scottish independence referendum.

Local bus and rail networks would be handled by authorities north of the border but the prospect of major infrastructure investment may be used as one element of Westminster's efforts to shore up support for the union.

Elsewhere, Transport for the North was keen to take advantage of the levelling up rhetoric as well as the commitments to bus and rail connectivity.

Tim Wood, acting chief executive, said that making this issues 'high on the list of priorities is welcome news and must now be met with action as we focus on rebalancing our economy and improving transport links'.

'We now need to see commitment to these aims in the upcoming Integrated Rail Plan, including backing the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail networks.

'Alongside a sustained pipeline of investment in our roads and active travel provision, this will support the cross-cutting themes of economic recovery and growth out of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increasing skills and opportunities for the North’s communities.'

Infrastructure support was also matched with pledges on green growth and sustainability, with the promise of investment in 'new green industries' as well as a reiteration of the committment make the UK net zero in carbon emissions by 2050.

Mr Wood said: 'Clear targets on climate change are also to be welcomed. Green growth is a big challenge, and one that is a key area of focus for Transport for the North. Our upcoming Decarbonisation Strategy provides a strong evidence base and clear plan for how cutting carbon emissions can be achieved, and offers a vision for future transport networks that will tackle the climate emergency.'

Judical review reform

There was also an indication in the speech that the Government would take forward plans for judical review reform.

In recent years, judicial reviews have seen major transport projects delayed or even blocked in the courts and as a result ministers had consulted on possible changes, noting the rise in the number of cases in recent years.

The Queen said the new legislative programme would seek to 'restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts'.

Introducing a consultation on the potential reforms in March 2021, justice secretary Robert Buckland wrote: ‘We are implementing our manifesto commitment to “ensure that Judicial Review is available to protect the rights of the individual against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.

‘The [review] panel’s analysis identified a growing tendency for the courts in judicial review cases to edge away from a strictly supervisory jurisdiction, becoming more willing to review the merits of the decisions themselves, instead of the way in which those decisions were made. The reasoning of decision-makers has been replaced, in essence, with that of the court. We should strive to create and uphold a system which avoids drawing the courts into deciding on merit or moral values issues which lie more appropriately with the executive or Parliament.’

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