Supreme Court rules that “all aspects of the HS2 project remain open to debate”

The Supreme Court today (22nd Jan 2014) rejected anti-HS2 campaigners’ appeal that the Government should comply with the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) Directive when planning HS2.  The grounds for the dismissal included that HS2 Ltd’s “Decisions and Next Steps” document (Jan 2012),

“did not constrain the decision-making process of the authority responsible, which is Parliament. Formally, and in reality, Parliament is autonomous, and not bound by any “criteria” contained in previous Government statements…”

and

“There is a distinction in the context of the SEA Directive between merely influencing subsequent consideration and setting limits on the scope of what can be considered. Until Parliament has reached its decision, the merits of all aspects of the HS2 project remain open to debate…”

Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said

“We are disappointed with this decision.  It’s clear from the judgement that the judges are expecting Members of Parliament to look carefully at the HS2 Hybrid Bill, and not simply follow the party whip.  But the Government has shown that it is eager to rush this legislation through, in the hope that no-one spots the problems with it.

“However, even though they have been taken to court over these matters, HS2 Ltd are still treating the environmental regulations as box ticking operations.  The ongoing environmental consultation has been twice extended by the House of Commons Standing Orders committee and the House of Lords Standing Order Committee, due to failings in the process by HS2 Ltd.  We hope that other MPs look closely at the environmental issues surround the Bill, and do not simply wave it through.

“This is not a game: if it goes ahead HS2 will affect the areas it blasts through for ever both in urban areas and the countryside.  We have a duty to future generations to make sure that the environment is protected.”

Joe Rukin, Campaign Manager for Stop HS2 said

“The court have ruled on a point of law, saying that HS2 haven’t acted illegally, but the fact remains that HS2 Ltd have acted unfairly and irresponsibly right from the start. The Government will try and paint this as a positive, but the reality is that HS2 is being rushed through without due diligence, which has been demonstrated by two Parliamentary committees extending consultation deadlines in the space of a week, and we know that HS2 is the wrong project for the country at this time and the budget for this white elephant will only continue to balloon out of control. We will continue to fight, and in the end, we will win.

“This leaves the Strategic Environmental Assessment legislation in tatters.  This ruling gives a green light for government  to side step legislation intended to preserve heritage, culture and the environment.”

Roger Waller, Chiltern Countryside Group said

“This is a bleak day for all protected landscapes.”

For more information on the details of the judgement, see the Supreme Court website: the press notice here and the full judgement here.

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6 comments to “Supreme Court rules that “all aspects of the HS2 project remain open to debate””
  1. We should not be seduced by the SC statement. Most MPs will not take the trouble to read any of the ES documents or even the Hybrid Bill. Unless they are led gently by the hand and spoon fed alternatives and amendments the game is as good as over. Even then it will be a challenge to have them speak up with any authority, or even at all.
    We need to find ways of challenging the principle of the Hybrid Bill, for example, are there too many unknowns for the lay reader to judge the effect it will have on them.
    I should also add that I am surprised at the comments of Mr Webber which seem to over egg the importance of a vote on the First Reading although I fear I must regrettably agree that it is not the number one issue for most MPs, but maybe as the groundswell grows and the date of the next election gets closer maybe there will be a change of heart. What we need is a good number of single issue candidates standing in key constituencies. Strong showing by these candidates would surely make whichever administration we enjoy after the General Election sit up a bit.

  2. These same erudite Supreme Court Judges would have justified he Decision re the Iraq War and WMDs on the same sorts of legal grounds had they had been invited to pontificate on that issue.
    The Nation was firmly against war and were cynical as to the motivation. The outcome of that Parliamentary folly is evident as are the political shenanighans.
    This is why the people do not trust the democratic process as practiced by MPs and HS2, Garden Cities and the Heathrow question will add to this sense of democratic duplicity.
    We know it is the case because of the manifest avoidance of these matters leading into the 2015 election,
    Vote now and we will provide our manifesto or change it soon after.
    HS2 was to be subject to a consultation post election. The consultation said ” No Thanks”

    The law cannot legislate against the failure of the democratic process as it operates. It seems once again the notion is that the decision is yet to be made and all aspects are up for discussion.

    Parliament itself is begining to wake up to the fact that laws are being passed without their scrutinising all the clauses and the constraints and shenaningans that occur as Bills ‘pass through’ the houses.
    There has been a reliance on the Lords to pick up the pieces except in the Paving Bill which was deemed a money bill.
    Hence compensation was not discussed and much time was deliberately wasted.
    Ultimately it appears there is little legal redress when there is folie a plusiers pour les grands projets masquerading as democratic process and when MPs fail to scrutinize or vote in conscience.

    Like Iraq there will be the shifting of blame/scape-goating and ‘if only we had been properly informed’ The cost and pain will be borne outside of the House.

    It will be an electoral issue and if there was democracy we should see an increase in independent councillors and MPs.
    Party Politics is now an industry and reliant on external finances and interests as a recent BBC radio doc. attested.
    .

  3. Pingback: STOP HS2 | HS2 media management tries to hide extra consultation extension under legal ruling‏

  4. Where is the time and money coming from in the Hybrid Bill process to change from Route 3 phase 1 to another alignment. There is an inconsistency with reality in the judgement. Could MPs and the Lords demonstrate how the realities can be overcome for a phase of the HS2 project does not produce sensible rail outcomes/services currently.

    The clarity takes away doubt but where is the Parliamentary leadership and railway competence to change the currect plan and reduce its costs and impacts please.

  5. Interesting to note one of the points referred to by one of the Supreme Court judges in their judgement:

    “210. The appellants’ case, that the Parliamentary process will be tainted by considerations such as whipping or collective ministerial responsibility or simply by party policy, amounts to challenging the whole legitimacy of Parliamentary democracy as it presently operates.”

    That really takes it to the heart of the matter. I think many people believe HS2 is being driven by just that. MPs being whipped into line. Pressured to follow party policy. And democracy plays little part in the matter.

    • To be honest, Geoff, one has to concede that the latest parliamentary Commons vote 350plus against 34, was pretty decisive, over ten to one in favour of moving on…

      And of the other three hundred or so Members who didn’t vote…?

      Many must have been convinced that the Bill would pass without their support or regardless of their opposition.
      Some may have bowed to party wishes, some may well have been concerned with other priorities- it is not the number one issue for them, however those campaigning might wish it to be otherwise .

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