Inspired by the success of a similar challenge to Heathrow Airport expansion earlier this year, Transport Action Network (TAN) has lodged an application for a judicial review of transport secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2), the £27bn investment programme.
Represented by Leigh Day solicitors, and barristers David Wolfe QC and Peter Lockley, TAN argues that the Department for Transport (DfT) has failed to acknowledge that road improvement increases traffic capacity and thus makes it harder to meet binding climate change and air pollution targets.
The DfT says it expects to map out the action needed in wider plans, such as a Transport Decarbonisation Plan, but those are future commitments that TAN says do not mean DfT met its legal duties at the time RIS2 was published.
If permission for a judicial review is granted, the case would be heard in the High Court in the autumn.
Transport Action Network was set up in 2019 by Chris Todd, who describes himself as a ‘community activist’, and Rebecca Lush, a veteran of the failed campaigns of Twyford Down (M3 extension) and Newbury bypass.
Rebecca Lush, who acts as TAN’s local campaigns support officer, said: “Air pollution has breached legal limits for over a decade while greenhouse gas emissions from transport have barely changed since 1990. With 2020 set to be the hottest year on record, we cannot put off urgent action any longer. Even when all the evidence points to a need to change direction, the Department for Transport has been unable to kick its addiction to road-building. Only a resounding defeat in the courts can shake it out of its complacency.”
Chris Todd, TAN’s director, said: “With more people enjoying fresh air and wanting to ‘build back better’, our challenge to road-building could not have been better timed. Hitting reset on the DfT’s roads plan will release billions to tackle the £16bn bridge and pothole backlog on local roads. And it will free up funding for alternatives to being stuck in traffic, whether cycleways for e-bikes or reopening railways. That’s better for kick-starting the economy after the current crisis, while safeguarding our health and our environment.”
Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “Our client believes that a road building programme runs completely counter to strategies that will be needed to meet climate change targets. They believe that the public wants transport systems that will work towards a greener future for the UK, and that spending £27bn on new roads will not be the answer.
“The plunge in traffic noise and pollution and a resulting awareness of nature that has been very evident during the COVID-19 lockdown has, our client believes, changed attitudes towards the possibilities of creating a greener future for the nation and the planet. This roads building programme, our client believes, does not tally with the change in thinking.”
In February the Court of Appeal upheld a legal challenge brought by environmental campaign groups and several local authorities opposed to Heathrow Airport’s expansion plans. The law lords decided that when the Department for Transport produced its Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) in June 2018, effectively enabling Heathrow expansion, it had failed to address climate change impact, as it is legally required to do under the Planning Act 2008. Therefore the ANPS is void.
Heathrow Airport Ltd has since secured permission to appeal but, significantly, the government has decided not to join its action.