IT doesn’t really matter how much spin the anti-HS2 campaigners put on the outcome of their Judicial Review. The result was a disaster for them. Their only achievement has been to secure a re-run of public consultation on compensation to be paid to those affected by the new line. But their principal objective was– and, listening to their subsequent comments, still is – to stop the project going ahead at all.
The HS2 Action Alliance’s objection to how the Government consulted on compensation proposals was only included in case they were unsuccessful with the Judicial Review. But they were confident they would win their case and put an end, or at least seriously delay until after the next general election, the project that they hate.
But as Malcolm Dowden, of law firm Charles Russell, says: “The result should not delay the process as the objectors failed on nine out of ten issues. The element they succeeded on relates to the arrangements for compensation on compulsory purchase of land along the route.”
No doubt that is why Mr Justice Ouseley made HS2AA’s compensation challenge tenth – and last – in the list of issues he said he had to rule on.
The objectors didn’t really want anyone to be paid compensation – because they didn’t want HS2 to proceed at all, arguing their Optimized Alternative could deliver all the benefits. But the Judge rejected all the reasons they could find for claiming the Government and Department of Transport had acted improperly in planning the scheme in readiness for an Environmental Impact Assessment, to be published soon ahead of a Hybrid Bill being placed before Parliament later this year.
Justice Ouseley spent eleven days listening to the objectors’ arguments and then almost another three months considering them and preparing his judgment– which ran to 259-pages. And he stated: “It will be apparent from the [ten] issues which I have outlined that it is not my task in this judgment to reach a view one way or the other on the merits of HS2.”
After delivering his determination on 15 March, the Judge granted the objectors leave to appeal against his nine rulings in favour of the Government. But legal experts do not think there is much chance of success.
‘Very difficult to overturn on appeal’
Charles Russell’s Malcolm Dowden said: “A judicial review ruling based on extensive argument heard between 3 and 17 December 2012 would be very difficult to overturn on appeal.”
Another infrastructure law expert, Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, 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.”
One of his colleagues Chris Hallam added: “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 democracy, where Parliamentarians, not judges, make the law, what is so surprising is that the anti-HS2 groups spent so much time (and money) on pursuing their objections through the Royal Courts of Justice– rather than preparing to lobby and petition MPs when the detailed Hybrid Bill begins its complicated passage through the House of Commons and House of Lords, starting at the end of this year.
As lawyer Malcolm Dowden says, the Judge’s rulings should not delay the HS2 Bill process as the objectors failed on all but the compensation issue. And he added: “That issue has very limited effect because the government has undertaken three consultation exercises on compensation so far, the most recent of which ended on 31 January and proposed arrangements for HS2 that go beyond the basic entitlements under general compulsory purchase law.”
Mr Dowden’s advice was: “The key message for anyone with property interests affected by the project is to prepare to take part in the petitioning process once the Bill has passed its second reading in Parliament.
“The procedure allows anyone affected by the project to petition. Crucially, petitioners need not object to the whole scheme. Most seek specific protection over and above the basic statutory scheme.”
Hybrid Bill is next stage
They shouldn’t have to wait long, now that the way is clear for the Parliamentary process to get into full swing.
According to Rail Minister Simon Burns: “HS2 is the most significant infrastructure investment the UK has seen in modern times and a project the country cannot afford to do without. The judgment ensures that nothing now stands in the way of taking our plans to parliament.
“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.”
Emphasising the cross-part support for HS2, Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, called on the government “to speed up legislation to make HS2 a reality.”
And Alan Reid, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Transport Parliamentary Committee, said: “This is a fantastic investment in our infrastructure and will help to build a stronger economy. The first phase will support the creation of more than 40,000 jobs, while phase two will support around 100,000 jobs across the country, regenerating areas around the route and bringing new services and amenities for local communities.”
UKIP, however, remains opposed to the scheme, claiming Justice Ouseley’s judgment as “a major victory for campaigners and for those whose lives and property values would be blighted by this rail line which would cut mere minutes off journey times between London and Birmingham.”
Describing HS2 as “a multi-billion pound EU vanity project,” transport spokesman Mike Nattrass said: “UKIP will continue to oppose HS2 and campaign for this whole, flawed project to be scrapped.”
The Green Party remains the only party with a representative in Parliament to be opposed to the scheme. The party conference came out overwhelmingly against HS2 on 26 February. But the party has made no comment since Mr Justice Ouseley’s judgment was announced on 15 March.