Chris Packham argues that neither HS2 Ltd, nor the Oakervee Review that informed the prime minister’s decision last month, demonstrated that the project met the required net zero emissions target.
Law firm Leigh Day has sent a pre-action protocol letter on behalf of Mr Packham, arguing that the decision to give the go-ahead to HS2 was unlawful because it relied on the flawed Oakervee review process and did not take into account the full environmental costs of the project.
The legal challenge comes on the back of the Court of Appeal last week upholding a legal challenge on the same basis against the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport. The law lords ruled 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 legally void.
Commentators suggested at the time that the Heathrow ruling would open the doors to legal challenges to other infrastructure projects and so it is proving.
Since the initial environmental statement for HS2 Phase 1 in 2013, the government has signed the Paris Agreement and committed to a policy of achieving net zero by 2050. In his legal case Mr Packham argues that the prime minister’s decision relies on the understanding that the Oakervee report had taken carbon emission impacts into account, such as the facilitation of airport growth and expansion outside of London.
Sections of the report dealing with environmental impacts concluded that the climate change impact of HS2 was likely to be close to carbon neutral. However, the report failed to quantify and address the full impact of emissions arising from HS2’s construction and operation, Mr Packham said.
He said: “We live in a time of absolute crisis. Our future and that of the planet upon which we live and depend is critically threatened. Therefore, we look to our leaders not just for good, but for great governance. We ask for best informed decisions to be made in the terrifying face of a declared climate and environment emergency. Every important policy decision should now have the future of our environment at the forefront of its considerations. But in regard to the HS2 rail project I believe our government has failed. I believe the review central to the mandate to proceed was seriously flawed in its methods. I believe that essential submissions regarding environmental concerns were ignored by the review panel. As a consequence, the Oakervee review is compromised, incomplete and flawed and thus the decision to proceed based upon it is unlawful. Today some of us are making a last stand for nature and the environment and we will not go quietly into any good night.”
Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short said: “The government committed to base its decision of whether and how to proceed with HS2 on the output of a review that the public was assured would be rigorous and independent and would consider all the existing evidence and the full range of the costs of the project. Our client considers that the review has failed to meet those promised standards. He argues that the flawed process of the review means that environmental impacts relevant to the decision whether to proceed have not been properly assessed. In a time of unprecedented ecological catastrophe, he is clear that the law, and moral logic, require the government to think again.”