The coalition government’s incoming transport secretary will wade into some of the most divisive rail and air debates in a generation
With an alleged homeopathy-supporting health secretary and a climate-sceptic environment minister now at the heart of UK government it’s fair to say that David Cameron’s first reshuffle is unlikely to instil much confidence amongst fans of reason and the scientific process.
But while the implications of these appointments will undoubtedly be pored over in the coming weeks and months, it is, for now, the remit of the transport secretary that’s grabbing the headlines.
The removal of Justine Greening from this key post marks an important moment in the escalating debate over the UK’s future air capacity.
A fierce opponent of the expansion of Heathrow, Greening has become increasingly associated with plans to build a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. The decision to move her into a lower profile international development role has prompted many – including London Mayor Boris Johnson – to suggest that the government may be preparing the way for it to go back on its pledge not to increase the size of Heathrow.
Greening has been replaced by Patrick McLoughlin MP, who despite once admitting a fear of flying, has been cautiously welcomed into the role by many in an industry that’s becoming increasingly impatient for action on the UK’s future air capacity requirements.
But this isn’t the only thorny issue awaiting the incoming transport chief. As well as wading straight into the argument over the West Coast mainline – the result of which will arguably shape the direction of the UK’s rail industry for decades to come – HS2 remains divisive, and McLoughlin’s appointment has been welcomed by opponents of the scheme as a sign that the government might be prepared to reconsider elements of the project.
There’s a lot to deal with. But McLoughlin needn’t worry too much. He becomes the sixth transport secretary in five years, so if recent political history is anything to go by, he’ll probably have just about enough time to get through his emails before he’s shuffled off somewhere else.