The useful thing about most court rulings in judicial review cases is that both sides can take from it whatever they want and make it into a victory. We had that last month with the work experience judgement, which was apparently both a victory for those who thought the government’s scheme was ‘slave labour’ and for those ministers who thought it was brilliant.
And today’s HS2 ruling in the High Court had the same effect. The government actually won nine out of the 10 points challenged by campaigners, so Transport Minister Simon Burns could call this a ‘green light’ to getting high speed rail underway. But according to former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, that 10th point was in fact ‘the most serious of all’, and shows ministers have been ‘cocky’.
So what has happened? Well, here are the 10 claims that the case was fought on, and the court’s findings in each instance:
1. The government failed to comply with the Strategic Environmental Assessment directive. The Judge said the SEA didn’t actually apply to HS2.
2. The government didn’t comply with the Habitats directive. The Judge found this wasn’t required at this stage. The Transport department says it will continue to look ‘carefully at potential impacts on habitats’.
3. The hybrid bill for HS2 wouldn’t meet the objective of the Environmental Impact Assessment directive. The court said it was ‘premature’ to challenge a process when it hasn’t yet happened.
4. A planned Environmental Statement wouldn’t take account of the cumulative impacts of both phases and wouldn’t comply with the EIA. The judge said ‘there is no evidence that the Secretary of State for Transport is actually proposing to do an unlawful EIA’.
5. The 2011 consultation on HS2 strategy and the first phase of the route was unlawful on the grounds that the project was phased, there should have been consideration of existing lines, the government should have provided more information on current passenger numbers, and the route was refined during consultation. The judge dismissed the challenge on all four issues.
6. The government failed to carry out the appropriate level of minority impact assessment. The Judge said minority groups were not put at a disadvantage and the government wasn’t required to carry out any further assessments.
7. Three of the Transport Secretary’s decisions were irrational: that HS2 should terminate at Euston, that there should be a link to HS1 and that there should be a spur connecting to Heathrow. The judge said ‘that is not irrational and some might regard it as wise’.
8. The government shouldn’t have pushed ahead with HS2 before deciding what to do about aviation capacity. The judge said this was ‘untenable’.
9. The government did not give proper consideration to the Aylesbury Park Golf Club’s alternative route. But the court found that the department did give this suggestion conscientious consideration.
10. The government’s consultation on compensation was unfair. This challenge was upheld, and the government will now have to consult on compensation options all over again. Ministers say this will not delay the project itself.
So if you’re someone who lives on the HS2 route and you’re expecting compensation, then you might be chuffed that the government’s having another think about the money you’ll receive. But this has no effect on the timing of the high speed rail project. And one piece of bad news for the claimants: the government is now going to seek to recover costs from them.
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