The controversial HS2 high-speed rail scheme has suffered a setback after the High Court ruled that the consultation process in respect of compensation to be paid to property owners affected by the multi-billion-pound project ‘was so unfair as to be unlawful’. However, the Department of Transport immediately announced that the consultation process would be re-run and that the HS2 construction timetable would be unaffected.
The ruling was a victory for the High Speed 2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), consisting of more than 70 affiliated action groups and residents’ associations. The HS2AA case on consultation was one of five separate actions brought in an attempt to block the scheme in its current form. It was the only one to succeed.
The government greeted the overall outcome of the judicial review proceedings as a victory and a spokesman stated: “Work on a new high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds can continue.” The first phase of HS2 will see a high-speed line running from London to Birmingham. A second will extent the line to Leeds and Manchester to create what will become known as ‘the Y network’. The £33 billion project is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business.
Mr Justice Ouseley stressed that it was not his task to review the merits of HS2 itself but to consider whether administrative decisions in respect of it were lawful. He identified 10 grounds of challenge raised in the five cases brought by various opponents, including 18 local councils, scores of residents’ associations and action groups, farmers and a golf club.
He rejected nine of those grounds, which included attacks on the manner in which the project had been steered through Parliament and alleged breaches of European Union environmental and habitat directives. He also dismissed claims that the government had failed to take account of relevant issues and was guilty of indirect discrimination because of the impact of redevelopment of London’s Euston Station on the local ethnic minority community.
The only successful challenge was in respect of HS2AA’s claim that the consultation and decision-making process in respect of compensation issues was ‘fundamentally unfair’. Some 172,000 properties within 0.6 miles of the first phase are alleged to be affected by ‘HS2 blight’, with residents facing dramatic reductions in the value of their properties.
The government gave an undertaking that it will swiftly conduct a fresh consultation exercise after the judge ruled: “Although the overall decision is not irrational, the carefully reasoned and substantial HS2AA consultation response, addressing the consultation issues as framed by the Secretary of State, cannot have been conscientiously considered. All in all, the consultation on compensation was so unfair as to be unlawful.”