The Court of Appeal has dismissed the challenge led by 15 councils and resident associations to order a re-assessment of the government supported HS2 project.
The court has decided against all seven grounds put forward by the objectors but granted their right to turn to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, as well as appeal over the European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (EIAD) for the strategic environmental assessment (SAE) to be carried out.
The court’s decision has been welcomed by the high-speed rail minister Simon Burns who urged the protesters to work with the parliament to make the HS2 the best it could be.
"Parliament is the right place to debate the merits of HS2, not the law courts, and we will introduce the hybrid bill for Phase One before the year is out,” Burns said. "We continue to move forward with the crucial business of getting the scheme ready for construction in 2017 and delivering enormous benefits for the country."
The objectors believe the HS2 construction will eventually become even more expensive than currently forecasted, estimating the overall investment might rise up to £58bn from the currently foreseen £42.6bn including contingencies.
They also maintain the level of environmental damage, loss of homes and disruption to communities would be unacceptable and criticise that the public haven’t had any opportunity to openly voice their opinion and suggest alternatives.
Speaking during the hearing, David Elvin QC, appearing for HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), said the fact the strategic environmental assessment hasn’t been carried out is a direct breach of EU rules.
Following the decision, councillor Martin Tett, chairman of the 51m alliance and leader of Buckinghamshire County Council expressed his disappointment with the result. "On four grounds brought to the Court of Appeal by the local authorities, the appeal judges found against us on the technicality that in theory Parliament is not bound by any decision of the Government and could chose to reject or amend the project,” he said.
He has further pointed out that the three judges deciding in the case have disagreed on whether a full strategic environmental assessment (SEA) should have been carried out regarding the effect on the environment of both HS2 and its alternatives. Justice Sullivan - one of the country's leading environmental and planning judges – was said to support the objectors’ claim.
"His comments in his judgment are damning of the Department for Transport's approach, stating: 'If, as I have concluded, an SEA is required and there has not been substantial compliance with the SEA Directive, it would be difficult to think of a more egregious breach of the directive given the scale of the HS2 project and the likely extent of its effects on the environment,'" Tett said.
"This is another example of the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd riding roughshod over public opinion, ploughing ahead regardless of what local communities want and ignoring the environmental merits of the alternatives,” he concluded.
The campaigners were previously defeated at the High Court in March this year. The only objection taken into consideration concerned the way property compensation consultation had been carried out.