Campaigners lose Supreme Court appeal against HS2

Conceptual image of HS2
Conceptual image of HS2

Campaigners against HS2 have had their appeals against the legality of the scheme dismissed by the Supreme Court.

This morning the court unanimously dismissed claims that the government failed to carry out a full assessment of the £50 billion line’s environmental impact and that its hybrid bill procedure for getting HS2 through Parliament doesn’t allow for proper democratic scrutiny of the project.

Both of these issues had already been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The appeals were brought by HS2 Action Alliance and a ten councils opposed to the line.

Buckinghamshire County Council did not take part directly, however it did pay £10,000 towards HS2 Action Alliance’s legal fees.

Aylesbury Vale District Council played no part in the proceedings.

Judges ruled that the government was not legally bound to carry out a full environment assessment prior to deciding to commence with the scheme.

Opponents also claimed that the government’s whipping of the vote on HS2, combined with limited Parliamentary examination of environmental information and the limited remit of the select committee, prevented effective scrutiny of the project.

But Lord Reed said there is ‘no reason to suppose that Members of Parliament will be unable properly to examine and debate the proposed project’.

He added: “Active political debate on the HS2 project, including its environmental impact, has already been under way for some time, and it is reasonable to expect that Members of Parliament have been, and will continue to be, contacted about it by their constituents and lobbied by interested organisations, such as the appellants.

“As t he bill proceeds through Parliament, and political interest in the project becomes more intense, Members of Parliament will have even more reason to be, and to wish to be, well informed about the project.”

In a statement the HS2 Action Alliance, said: “We’ve had a relatively short time to review the case with our legal team, but our initial conclusions are that the Court’s decision is based on a very restrictive interpretation of the legal points at stake in the case.

“This interpretation does not appear consistent with European Law or the UK’s obligations under the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement designed to protect the environment.

“As a result of this judgement, we are in discussions with our legal team about how best to take these issues into Europe. We’ll have an update on this point shortly.”

Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said: “We are disappointed with this decision.

“It’s clear from the judgement that the judges are expecting Members of Parliament to look carefully at the HS2 Hybrid Bill, and not simply follow the party whip.

“But the Government has shown that it is eager to rush this legislation through, in the hope that no-one spots the problems with it.

“However, even though they have been taken to court over these matters, HS2 Ltd are still treating the environmental regulations as box ticking operations.

“The ongoing environmental consultation has been twice extended by the House of Commons Standing Orders committee and the House of Lords Standing Order Committee, due to failings in the process by HS2 Ltd.

“We hope that other MPs look closely at the environmental issues surround the Bill, and do not simply wave it through.

“This is not a game: if it goes ahead HS2 will affect the areas it blasts through for ever both in urban areas and the countryside. We have a duty to future generations to make sure that the environment is protected.”

County Councillor Chris Adams, from UKIP, which opposes HS2, said he believes campaigners should now take their case to the European courts.

He joked: “Isn’t it funny that a UKIP person is saying we can use Europe to scrap HS2?”

However, Mr Adams also claimed that the British government is under pressure from the EU to build the line.

Transport Minister Baroness Kramer said: “We welcome that the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected the appeal, which addressed technical issues that had no bearing on the need for a new north-south railway.

“The government’s handling of the project has been fully vindicated by the highest court in the land.

“We will now continue to press ahead with the delivery of HS2.

“The new north-south line will provide extra space for more trains and more passengers to travel on the network, delivering additional capacity where it is most needed. HS2 will also generate thousands of jobs across the UK and provide opportunities to boost skills.

“It is part of the government’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy and secure a better future for Britain. HS2 is also essential in helping rebalance UK growth - bringing greater prosperity to the Midlands and the north - and we are continuing with the crucial business of getting the scheme ready for construction in 2017.”

The Supreme Court hearing ran from October 15 to 16 2013 and was heard by seven judges.