High Court rejects "all but most minor" HS2 judicial review grounds

Out-Law News | 15 Mar 2013 | 12:59 pm | 3 min. read

The High Court has largely rejected a number of legal challenges to the Government's controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

It has backed Government policy on nine out of the 10 broad challenges brought by protest groups and local authorities. The Department for Transport (DfT) has said that it will re-run a consultation on compensation payable to property owners, rather than appeal the tenth ground, in order to "save time and public money".

Infrastructure law expert Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the decision would be a "considerable relief" to the Government.

"The verdict will also be very welcome news to those who have been campaigning for the benefits that it will bring to rail capacity and to the wider economy," he said. "It is almost certain that there will be an appeal, but the fact that this verdict has gone so comprehensively in favour of the Government means that the timetable remains on track and the judgment gives no scope for siren voices to call for a delay and rethinking of the project."

Protest groups HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), the '51m' group of local authorities affected by the scheme, Aylesbury Golf Club and Heathrow Hub challenged the lawfulness of the £32 billion intra-city rail project on various grounds. These included environmental concerns, lack of consultation and inadequate compensation arrangements.

In a detailed judgment (259-page / 2.2MB PDF), Mr Justice Ouseley said that the Government had been entitled to rule out upgrading the existing rail network as a credible alternative to the construction of a new high speed rail line. He also found that the Government's approach to consultation on the route that the first phase of the line would take, its environmental assessment and consideration of the impact of the project on habitats and protected species had been carried out fairly and lawfully. In particular, he said that the Government had not needed to carry out various environmental screenings called for under European legislation at the time that it published its initial plans, stating that the screening processes it had carried out were "sufficient for this stage".

The judge upheld a challenge to the way the Government had carried out its consultation on discretionary compensation to property owners affected by the scheme, but did not comment on the merits of the particular schemes proposed. The consultation process was unfair because not enough information was provided to consultees, and the criteria against which compensation options would be considered were not adequately explained, he said. He also found that the Government had not fully considered a response to this consultation from HS2AA, one of the campaign groups involved in the challenge.

High Speed Rail Minister Simon Burns said that carrying out a new consultation on property compensation would not delay the project. He added that the Government remained "fully committed" to fairly compensating members of the public who would be affected by HS2.

"This is a major, landmark victory for HS2 and the future of Britain," the minister said. "The judge has categorically given the green light for the government to press ahead without delay in building a high speed railway from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds ... We will now move forward as planned with the crucial business of getting the scheme ready for construction in 2017 and delivering enormous benefits for the country."

The initial London to Birmingham phase of the 250 miles per hour line is scheduled for completion in 2026 and will cut journey times between the two cities to 45 minutes. A proposed second phase of the project envisages the construction of an onward 'y network' connecting the line to Manchester and Leeds, as well as a spur to Heathrow Airport, by 2033. The Government set out its preferred route for the line including new stations in the West Midlands, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire in a policy paper published in January.

Infrastructure law expert Chris Hallam of Pinsent Masons welcomed the Government's victory; pointing out that the UK "desperately needed" investment in large infrastructure projects.

"HS2 will be a welcome fillip for the struggling infrastructure sector, albeit that actual construction is still some years away," he said. "Of course, the anti-HS2 alliances are unlikely to give up their battles so we should expect a few more hurdles to come, but if the UK is serious about being able to punch its weight internationally we need to have infrastructure that makes the UK a great place to do business and which links our main commercial centres."

In a statement published on its website, HS2AA said that "the field [was] clear" for it to appeal the majority of the High Court's findings.