HS2 legal challenge is rejected

The Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge by objectors to Government proposals for pushing through the HS2 national high-speed rail link.

The highest court in the land heard accusations that the Government was "cutting corners" to push through the project, in breach of European environmental laws.

It was argued that the parliamentary hybrid Bill procedure being used by MPs was inappropriate.

Today seven Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the challenge.

The judges ruled: "There is no reason to suppose that MPs will be unable properly to examine and debate the proposed project."

They also ruled there was no need for the court to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Responding to the Supreme Court ruling, 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 legal challenge was made by objectors including the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), Heathrow Hub campaigners and local councils along the proposed route in a bid to force reconsideration of the scheme to link London, the Midlands and the North.

David Elvin QC, appearing for HS2AA, told the Supreme Court at a hearing in October that the case concerned "the most important strategic rail decision this country has taken at least for a generation".

The Department for Transport has described HS2 as "absolutely vital for this country if we are to meet the urgent capacity needs we face".

Mr Elvin told the Supreme Court that the Government had failed to consult as widely as it had promised and to consider properly alternatives to its preferred scheme.

He asked the judges, headed by Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, to overturn an appeal court 2-1 majority upholding the scheme.

But the court rejected his application for a declaration that Government transport chiefs unlawfully failed to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), in breach of an EU directive.

The seven judges - Lord Neuberger sitting with Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Reed, Lord Mance, Lord Sumption and Lord Carnwath - also rejected a further challenge brought by local councils led by the London Borough of Hillingdon over a second EU directive - the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (EIAD).

The councils unsuccessfully argued that the parliamentary hybrid Bill procedure, which is to be used to push through the project, is not capable of achieving the objectives of the EIAD.

Hybrid Bills are used to reflect both the public importance of proposed legislation and also the impact on private individuals or groups.

The objectors also say it will cost far too much to get HS2, as currently envisaged, up and running. The estimated cost is £50 billion - but London Mayor Boris Johnson and others have predicted it will eventually cost more than £70 billion.

Mr Elvin told the panel of judges that at least 10 sites of special scientific interest, more than 50 ancient woodlands, four Wildlife Trust reserves and numerous local wildlife sites were on the proposed HS2 route.

Some 170,000 homes are within 1km (0.6 miles) of it.

After the announcement Emma Crane, campaign director of the HS2 Alliance, said: "We are very disappointed, but it is absolutely not the end of the road. We believe this is a wrong decision."

Ms Crane said: "We believe the Government are effectively sidestepping their obligations. It is not for the Government to ride roughshod over these obligations. This is a worrying precedent. That is why we have got to keep pushing."

She added: "We will make a complaint to the European Commission to say the UK Government has not complied with its European law obligations on the environment. We are speaking to our lawyers."

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