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HS2 legal challenge begins at High Court today

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Opponents of the Government’s HS2 high-speed rail scheme asked the High Court today to declare the £34 billion project legally flawed and send it back for reconsideration.

The first of a series of legal challenges to the £34bn project is expected to go on for several days.

If the judicial reviews are successful, the Government may have to run its HS2 consultation process again, potentially delaying the project by up to two years.

The planned route cuts through the rural part of south Northamptonshire on its way from London to Birmingham. It is mostly opposed by people living in Northamptonshire.

The scheme has polarised opinion, with many residents’ groups and some councils bitterly opposing it, but supporters point out the benefits a reduction in journey times between the UK’s two biggest cities could bring.

The first phase of HS2 would see a new, high-speed railway line running through Tory heartlands from London to Birmingham.

The scheme has polarised opinion, with many residents’ groups and some councils bitterly opposing it, but supporters point out the benefits a reduction in journey times between the UK’s two biggest cities could bring.

The legal challenge at London’s High Court, which is expected to last seven days, could potentially delay the scheme for years if successful.

The case is being fought in several parts. Today, a QC for 51m, an alliance of local authorities, including South Northamptonshire Council, opposing HS2, accused the Government of being guilty of fundamental failures.

These include failing to undertake a strategic environmental assessment, or to arrange a consultation process “that allows informed responses on the true merits and demerits of the proposals”.

Nathalie Lieven QC, appearing for 51m, said there had been no proper environmental assessment of the impact of the “entire project”, or the full cumulative impacts of the first phase.

She told Mr Justice Ouseley: “It is a decision involving the purchase and demolition of hundreds of homes. In Camden (London) alone between 200-500 dwellings are affected.

“They have no idea what the figure will be north of Birmingham.”

Ms Liven said the scheme must also be blocked because of a failure to comply with the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

The second application for judicial review is by campaign group HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) and concerns the legality of compensation arrangements for homeowners living near the proposed HS2 line.

Lawyers for HS2AA say homeowners are in danger of not being properly compensated following a “fundamentally flawed” consultation process.

They say some 172,000 properties within 1km of the first phase are being affected by “a generalised blight” since the proposals were announced.

The 51m group’s chairman, Martin Tett, who is also leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said of the decision to resort to legal action: “We are doing this with immense reluctance. However, we feel that we have been left with no alternative.

“This immensely expensive project ignores the Davies Review of aviation policy, has an abysmal business case and represents extremely poor value for hard-pressed taxpayers’ money. Far better alternatives exist to build the infrastructure the country desperately needs more quickly and at far lower cost.

“We cannot let the Department for Transport, with its atrocious record on managing key investment decisions, not answer for why these have been ignored.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “HS2 will bring cities closer together, drive regeneration, tackle overcrowding and stimulate economic growth.

“While it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific claims, the Government is confident that the decisions on HS2 have been taken lawfully and fairly and it is vigorously defending these legal challenges.”

 

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