Rail objectors head to Supreme Court

Posted: 25th July 2013

Objectors to the government’s controversial plans for a multi-billion-pound high speed rail link slashing travel times between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds today failed in their latest legal challenge to the proposals although they have been granted permission to argue environmental issues raised by the case before the Supreme Court.

Railway PlatformThe Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling in which nine out of 10 grounds of challenge to the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link were rejected, although a claim that the Secretary of State for Transport had failed to consult properly on compensation issues relating to affected landowners had been successful.

A consortium of 15 local authorities, business interests, and campaign group, HS2 Action Alliance Limited, had claimed that HS2 will cost too much, estimating that the overall price will spiral to almost twice the Government’s estimate of £33 billion. They had argued that it will have grave environmental impacts and force property owners along the route out of their homes and businesses.

The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected arguments that, amongst other things, consultation of those affected by the scheme had been inadequate; that the decision to approve the scheme was ‘irrational’ in the light of less disruptive alternatives and that it breached public sector equality duties.

The Court also dismissed, by a majority, submissions that the government had acted unlawfully in failing to carry out a full strategic environmental assessment (SEA) in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (SEAD). However, after acknowledging the general public importance of that issue, the Court granted objectors permission to argue the point before the Supreme Court.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, and Lord Justice Richards ruled that an SEA had not been mandatory before the Secretary of State placed the proposals before Parliament in the form of a command paper. In his dissenting judgment, Lord Justice Sullivan said that, for his part, he would have referred that issue to the European Court of Justice for a definitive ruling on the point.