HS2AA and the London Borough of Hillingdon join forces to take new legal actions over HS2

HS2AA and the London Borough of Hillingdon have come together to launch two fresh legal actions against the Government in respect of the controversial high speed rail project HS2.

 First, the London Borough and campaigning group have lodged a complaint against the Government for breaching its obligations under the Aarhus Convention, an international treaty designed to protect the environment, in connection with its decision making on HS2.

Second, permission was granted on 18 April by the High Court to hear a fresh judicial challenge on HS2, this time challenging the decision by the Secretary of State for Transport to issue safeguarding directions without undertaking a Strategic Environmental Assessment. A hearing will take place in the High Court on 9 June and is expected to last three days.

The actions indicate the Government’s legal troubles which have dogged the controversial HS2 project are far from complete. In addition HS2AA has flagged to the Parliamentary authorities that the Parliamentary process it intends to use to obtain the permission needed to build and operate Phase 1 of HS2 is incompatible with important European environmental requirements.

 If the complaint made to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee is successful, the Government would be required to start again on decision making about HS2.

 If the High Court hearing on safeguarding is successful, the current prohibition on developing land identified for the route of Phase 1 of HS2 would be lifted and could not be reinstated until the Government has completed an environmental assessment.

 Ray Puddifoot, Leader of Hillingdon Council, said, “Strategic Environmental Assessments are the cornerstone of European and international environmental protection legislation, which in simple terms require a developer to identify the goals a project is trying to meet and what alternative ways exist of meeting these goals. The Assessment should be used to identify the least harmful way of achieving these goals.”

Hilary Wharf of HS2 Action Alliance said, Since the start of this project there has been a sorry story of the Government trying to avoid important environmental protection requirements which are enshrined in law. We believe that the same environmental and planning law standards should apply to HS2 as any other project and we are prepared to go to Europe and back to the High Court to protect that principle”.

Ends

Notes

  1. The London Borough of Hillingdon is facing massive disruption over many years should the current plans for HS2 proceed, including the placement of a new landfill directly next to thousands of homes which would be one of Europe’s largest. The recent Environmental Statement for HS2 detailed a significant number of adverse environmental impacts in the Borough including loss of important amenities such as the Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, numerous wildlife sites, disruption to traffic and local businesses over many years.
  2. HS2 Action Alliance is a national non-profit organization which opposes the current HS2 proposals. It is backed by thousands of people across the country together with over 100 affiliated local action groups and residents associations.
  3. The London Borough of Hillingdon and HS2 Action Alliance’s have lodged a complaint  against the United Kingdom Government for non-compliance with the requirements of the Aarhus Convention, with the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in Geneva. The complaint contends January’s Supreme Court decision, which placed a restrictive interpretation on the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive, was incorrect, and that its refusal to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice is in breach of the UK’s obligations under the EU Treaty.
  4. The impact of the Supreme Court decision meant controversial projects can dodge important environmental rules known as the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive by getting planning permission from Parliament rather than the normal planning process.
  5. The Aarhus Convention is a cornerstone of the legal protections across Europe for our environment. Uniquely in international law, countries which sign up to the Aarhus Convention are subject to the decisions of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, which sits in Geneva.
  6. A decision from the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee is expected to take around 10 months.  The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has the power to find that the Supreme Court’s decision leaves the UK in breach of its UN Treaty obligations under the Aarhus Convention.
  7. The London Borough of Hillingdon and HS2 Action Alliance have lodged judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Transport in the High Court concerning the decision to impose Safeguarding Directions on the Phase 1 Route without undertaking a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The parties contend this decision was unlawful.
  8. Safeguarding directions are instructions issued by the Secretary of State for Transport that require local authorities impacted by Phase 1 of HS2 to refer planning applications which might interfere with the construction of HS2 to HS2 Ltd for a decision.
  9. The Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations are an important element of the planning process and require a full assessment of the likely impacts of any decision which may impact the environment

For Further Information Please Contact

Richard Houghton HS2AA 07803 178037

Iain Macauley IM Press Relations 0788 978800

Gemma Ramsay London Borough of Hillingdon 01895 250403