Delivery of the government’s plan to improve air quality will be overseen by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has been appointed Secretary of State for the Environment.
The move is a part of a cabinet reshuffle by the Prime Minister Theresa May following last week’s General Election, in which the Conservatives lost an overall parliamentary majority following gains by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Gove’s appointment was confirmed yesterday evening (11 June), after it was announced that Andrea Leadsom, who had held the environment post since last summer, had been appointed Leader of the House of Commons.
Within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Mr Gove will have responsibility for the ‘overall policy programme’ on the environment, as well as oversight of the Brexit process in relation to environmental legislation.
Efforts to address air pollution are likely to be near the top of his list of priorities in coming into Defra, with a final version of the government’s plan on reducing nitrogen dioxide in towns and cities due to be delivered by 31 July.
Among the key decisions to be taken is whether to incentivise drivers to move away from using diesel vehicles, with a consultation on the plan having asked for views on the potential for the implementation of a diesel scrappage scheme (see airqualitynews.com story).
A former journalist, Mr Gove has held a number of senior cabinet roles during his political career including having served as Secretary of State for Education from 2010 to 2014, and Secretary of State for Justice from May 2015 to July 2016.
His role in Brexit negotiations will also be under close scrutiny, with environmental legislation – and in particular air pollution limits – largely dictated by EU directives.
Mr Gove, who campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union, is thought to favour a deregulatory approach, having claimed during the EU referendum campaign that European legislation costs the UK economy up to £600 million per week.
And, in a speech at the launch of the Conservative Environment Network in 2014, Mr Gove described himself as a ‘shy green’, reportedly stating: “One of the things that I’ve learnt throughout my life is that I’m an environmentalist but a lot of time I didn’t realise it.â€?
“…it is conservative instinct – for example, over property rights – which safeguard the environment better than a bureaucratic or collectivist approach,â€? he is reported to have said.
During his time as Education Secretary Mr Gove’s department had involvement in a High Court case over cancellation of school building projects, experience which could be crucial given the looming threat of a further challenge over the government’s air quality proposals (see airqualitynews.com story).
Further ministerial appointments within Defra have yet to be confirmed, and it is not known whether Thérèse Coffey, the junior minister with direct responsibility for the air quality portfolio within the Department prior to the election, will retain her post.
However, in another appointment relevant to the air quality policy portfolio, Chris Grayling will stay on as Transport Secretary, a job he has held since 2016.
Mr Grayling has previously outlined the government’s ‘commitment’ to improving air quality, having announced funding for the development of low emission vehicles (see airqualitynews.com story).