The UK has its third prime minister in two months – and with PM Rishi Sunak comes a flurry of new ministerial appointments. Which are most significant for the landscape sector?
On 20 October, amid financial turmoil precipitated by her government’s ‘mini’ budget the preceding month, Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister (PM) after just 45 days in office.
Within a week, a fresh leadership contest selected former Chancellor Rishi Sunak as the new PM – the third such appointment in less than two months.
With the new PM has come several changes in the government departments that directly and indirectly impact the UK landscape sector. This article details changes of note and outlines some of the upcoming legislation and challenges that Sunak’s government will face.
An early priority for the Sunak administration will be the publication of a full Autumn Statement by the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, on 17 November. According to HM Treasury, this will include a fiscal plan ‘to put public spending on a sustainable footing, get debt falling, and restore stability’.
After his widely criticized decision to not attend the forthcoming COP27 climate summit in EgyptSunak announced on 2 November that he would in fact join other world leaders at the conference, stating that ‘There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change.’
There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change.
There is no energy security without investing in renewables.
That is why I will attend @COP27P next week: to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure and sustainable future.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) November 2, 2022
New ministerial team
The PM has been busy putting together his new team across key departments of state. Read on for more details.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)
DLUHC supports communities across the UK. It works with a wide range of agencies and public bodies including the Planning Inspectorate, Homes England, and the Architects Registration Board. Responsible for local investment, housing delivery, support for communities and faith groups, and overseeing local government, planning, and building safety, its relevance to landscape practice is substantial.
Levelling Up was a 2019 Conservative manifesto, and the February 2022 Levelling Up White Paper set out how the government plans to spread opportunity more equally across the UK. The subsequent Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill has been debated throughout summer 2022 up until mid-October.
(A recent LI policy briefing paper on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill examines its implications for the landscape sector.)
Given the Chancellor’s impending Autumn Statement and the likely intense pressure on public expenditure, it will be interesting to see how the government will fund and advance its ‘levelling up’ ambitions.
For the landscape sector, continuing commitment from the government to green infrastructure will be integral to the agenda. Of equal importance will be a renewal of the government’s previous priorities around design quality.
Michael Gove has replaced Simon Clarke MP as Secretary of State. He returns to DLUHC, having previously held the post as Secretary of State from September 2021 to July 2022. Gove’s new team includes Dehenna Davison as Levelling Up Minister. She is MP for Bishop Auckland, a so-called ‘red wall’ constituency that the Conservatives won from Labor in 2019.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Defra is responsible for improving and protecting the environment, growing the green economy, sustaining rural communities, and supporting the food, farming, and fishing industries. It works with a wide range of agencies and public bodies including the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, and Natural England.
The priority for Defra will be turning the commitments of recent years into action and expanding on some key policies, with major Acts of Parliament (such as the Environment Act and the Agriculture Act) already on the statute book. The policies concerned include several causes close to the heart of landscape practice, notably biodiversity net gain and new environmental land management schemes (ELMS).
While the broad direction of travel is unlikely to change, it will be important for the department to continue to drive forward initiatives such as urban green infrastructure, sustainable drainage, and environmental impact assessment (EIA) reform.
Having served briefly as Liz Truss’ Deputy Prime Minister, Thérèse Coffey MP returns as Defra Secretary of State. She was previously Defra Under Secretary of State from July 2016 to July 2019 and was briefly Minister of State from July 2019 to September 2019. Also returning to Defra is Rebecca Pow MP as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. (She previously served in the role from 10 September 2019 to July 2022.)
— Conservative Environment Network (@CEN_HQ) October 26, 2022
Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
Among BEIS’s many responsibilities is leading the UK Government’s commitment to tackle climate change by reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Net zero is a priority for all businesses, including landscape practices. This means not only measuring and reducing their own carbon footprints, but also designing and delivering low-carbon schemes for clients.
BEIS is also responsible for business-related policy, including tax and regulatory reforms, and the framework of professional regulation (eg for architects). There is no indication of forthcoming change that will specifically affect private landscape practices in this regard.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
The remit of DCMS is to drive growth, enrich lives, and promote Britain abroad. It has previously had a dedicated minister responsible for civil society, heritage, tourism, and growth – all areas of importance to the landscape sector. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether the new team at DCMS will pick up these responsibilities.