Case for HS2 should be revisited despite disappointing court ruling, says Chris Packham
Environmental campaigner Chris Packham CBE says the case for HS2 should be revisited despite today’s disappointing Court of Appeal ruling.
Mr Packham has spoken out following a Court of Appeal judgment which refused permission on two grounds for a judicial review into the Cabinet’s decision to give the multi-billion pound project the “green signal” on11 February 2020.
Mr Packham maintains that the COVID-19 pandemic’s massive impact on public finances and the need for a green recovery (including a substantial change in attitudes towards home-working and remote business meetings) has undone the business and environmental case for HS2.
Chris Packham said:
“Obviously we are deeply disappointed by today’s ruling. But the fact is, we are a world away from the place we were when we issued the original claim for judicial review.
COVID-19 has turned the state of the UK finances and the public’s attitudes towards climate change upside down.
People now see that a scheme for a railway which will tear up the countryside so that we can shave a few minutes off a journey time, makes no sense in the contemporary workplace.
The HS2 project is not about the future, it’s about preserving a past which has now changed so radically since the pandemic.”
In a 51-page judgment handed down today, three Lord Justices of Appeal refused Mr Packham’s appeal against his earlier (6 April 2020) refusal of a judicial review.
Mr Packham had appealed on two grounds. The first concerned the question of whether the Cabinet was correctly advised on the existence and extent of environmental information before it when considering the report of the Oakervee Panel. Second, that the Government failed to take account of the effect of the project on greenhouse gas emissions and global temperature rise between now and 2050, in the light of its obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008.
On the first ground, the judges ruled that the environmental impacts of HS2 had been assessed in detail through the Parliamentary process and the Cabinet’s decision-making could not have been made without proper regard to those conclusions.
On the second, the Court held that because the decision arising out of the Oakervee Review was not subject to any form of statutory scheme, the Government was at liberty to select the issues on which it was advised by the Review and that it was not constrained by the Climate Change Act 2008 or by any policy of its own. But in any event, the Court of Appeal held that it can be taken that the Government was fully aware of its commitments under the Paris Agreement and responsibilities under the Climate Change Act 2008 and to have taken those commitments and responsibilities into account.
The Divisional Court had also held that Mr Packham had not brought the claim promptly as it had been brought within six weeks and three days of the Cabinet decision in February 2020. The Court of Appeal overturned the lower Court’s judgment, ruling that the claim had been brought well within the three-month limit that lawfully applies in such cases.
Mr Packham was represented by Tom Short and Carol Day, Solicitors at Leigh Day and by David Wolfe QC at Matrix Chambers and Merrow Golden at Francis Taylor Building.
Solicitor Carol Day said:
“This is a very disappointing judgment. Most people would assume that when the Government makes a commitment to tackle climate change under international and domestic law, that commitment will be both fully understood and fully considered in all of its decision-making. However, today’s judgment suggests a less demanding approach can be lawful. Our client believes this is wrong and is pursuing the possibility of an appeal.”