Bernard Hall, Cuddington
Walter Rose Room
By Haddenham Webteam - 2nd August 2013 7:15am
Buckinghamshire County Council has announced its strategy for the next stage of the fight against HS2.
Last month the Court of Appeal dismissed five grounds of appeal brought by the County Council, as part of an alliance with fourteen other local authorities.
The Court did however deliver an important split decision on 'Ground 1' which contended that the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd should have carried out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) prior to the decision to proceed with the scheme. Crucially Lord Justice Sullivan, one of the most senior environmental and planning judges in the country, described the failure to carry out an SEA as "one of the most egregious breaches of the (European Environmental) Directive".
The Court of Appeal granted Buckinghamshire County Council, along with the other Councils, leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court. It also granted similar leave to appeal to the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) who had also brought a challenge on Ground 1 and who had led on the case for Ground 1 in Court.
"We are determined that our contention that an Strategic Environmental Assessment should have been carried out is heard in the Supreme Court," said Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and Chairman of the 51 m Alliance of local authorities opposed to HS2.
"The Department for Transport cannot just ignore one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in the European Union.
"At the County Council, we have decided that the most effective and most cost efficient way of doing this is by supporting the continuation of the HS2 Action Alliance case in the Supreme Court."
He continued, "When there were nine 'Grounds' of challenge it made sense for HS2AA and the County Council to commission their own solicitors and Queen's Counsels to present the separate cases. Now that we are down to just this single, most important Ground, it doesn't make sense for us both to meet legal costs. HS2AA have led on the SEA and it makes complete sense for them to take it to the Supreme Court.
"We are also conscious that we are using tax payers' money and we are duty bound to use it wisely. We will therefore be making a £10,000 contribution towards HS2AA's legal fund rather than commissioning our own legal team. This is because we believe that, were the appeal to succeed, there would be a clear and direct benefit to Buckinghamshire and its residents and on this basis it is proportionate to make a contribution to the HS2AA Legal Fund Appeal.
Martin Tett added, "We are aware that some other councils have decided that they wish to continue to be separately represented. We understand and respect that position."
"In addition, this strategy will mean that the County Council can also afford to produce analysis to inform MPs ahead of the Hybrid Bill, continue with our work on defining the very best mitigation should the scheme go ahead and petitioning for it during the Hybrid Bill process.
He concluded, "As the Court of Appeal has given us leave to appeal to the Supreme Court we believe that there is an excellent chance that this appeal will be successful. In addition, I am very confident that if the lack of a Strategic Environmental Assessment is referred to the European Court, it will find, as Lord Justice Sullivan did, that the Department for Transport were in breach of their fundamental obligations with regard to the environment. Our financial support to the HS2AA Legal Appeal should help ensure that this case is heard. We wish them every success. The fight goes on."
Hilary Wharf, Director of the HS2 Action Alliance commented "We are delighted that Buckinghamshire County Council have made a contribution to our legal fund. Most importantly it shows the confidence of the County Council in the case we have brought and our ability to pursue it to a successful conclusion".