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What a Hung Parliament means for transport policy

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Ahead of yesterday’s vote, this blog identified the five major transport themes of the election and sifted through the manifestos to see how each party would address them. Our plan was to return to those themes today, and explain the new Government’s policies for each of them.

However, politics has a way of upsetting plans. We now know that the new Parliament will be a Hung Parliament, and that creates some uncertainty about the nature of the new Government. Even if the largest party, the Conservatives, manages to stave off a minority uprising by Labour and the other parties, we don’t yet know what deals they will have to make in order to return to No.10. That means that we’ll have to wait before saying anything unequivocal about policy.

In the meantime, we still thought we’d return to our themes, but now with a different, more ambiguous approach. Here, briefly, is what the unforgiving arithmetic of a Hung Parliament could mean for them:

AIR QUALITY

In terms of policy, there was considerable doubt about air quality ahead of the election. The Conservative Government had just published its Draft Plan for combatting air pollution, but that document was far more a draft than it was a plan. It did little to address diesel drivers’ questions about whether they will face tax hikes, or whether a scrappage scheme will be introduced.

Despite this, the chances for policy action are fairly good. Not only has Britain’s High Court insisted upon it – it wants a full and sufficient Air Quality Plan to be published by 31st July – but there’s also a broad base of support for various measures across all the parties. It’s possible to imagine MPs from practically every party giving their support to a package that includes some tax hikes, a scrappage scheme, and the expansion of Clean Air Zones, even if there is some wrangling about the particulars.

HEATHROW

A third runway at Heathrow could be one of casualties of this election. The Conservatives supported it in their manifesto, but some of their MPs – including the newly returned Zac Goldsmith – might nevertheless be minded to vote against it. Factor in the Lib Dem’s total opposition to a third runway, Labour’s ambivalence, and the SNP’s emphasis on regional airport expansion, and Heathrow may have to stick with just the two runways for now.

HIGH-SPEED RAIL

The question that hovers above HS2, both before and after the election, is: how far can it go? All of the major parties are eager to get on with constructing the high-speed line – in fact, they gave their parliamentary approval to it earlier this year – but they differ on its length. The Conservatives would take it as far as Manchester and Leeds, whereas Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP would extend it to Scotland. However, these differences are unlikely to matter right now. The first phase of the line, to Birmingham, is expected to be completed in 2026. We may well have another Parliament before politicians start arguing about what comes next.

RAIL NATIONALISATION

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are the only major party advocating wholesale nationalisation of the railway network – and, at time of writing, they’re 65 seats short of a majority. The Lib Dems and the SNP have both proposed much more limited nationalisation-style policies, but, even if they could be persuaded to back Labour’s radical plan, their combined 47 seats wouldn’t be enough anyway. This one is a bit of a non-starter.

BORROWING FOR INFRASTRUCTURE

Should infrastructure spending be funded by borrowing in the long-term? As we explained in our previous post, the Conservatives and Labour are currently divided on this matter – but it’s really too early to say much else about it. The underpinnings of the public finances are determined less at election-time and more in the Chancellor’s Budgets and Spending Reviews. We shall have to wait even longer to be certain of the new Government’s position.

And that just about sums it up: the waiting game is on. As soon as we know more about the new Government and its transport policies, which should happen in the next few days, we will return to our themes again. Stay tuned.

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