A fresh legal challenge to HS2 has been launched by the naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, arguing that the UK government’s decision to approve the high-speed rail network failed to take account of its carbon emissions and climate impact.
Packham and the law firm Leigh Day said the Oakervee review, whose advice to proceed with HS2 in full was followed by Boris Johnson last month, was “compromised, incomplete and flawed”.
The crowdfunded legal challenge comes in the wake of a court of appeal ruling on Heathrow, which declared that the government’s planning statement allowing a third runway at the London airport was unlawful for not referencing the Paris climate agreement.
Packham will likewise argue that the Oakervee report failed to quantify and address the full impact of HS2’s likely carbon emissions. The initial environmental statement for the high-speed rail network was made in 2013, before the government signed the Paris agreement and committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Packham said: “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 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.”
Tom Short, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said the “environmental impacts relevant to the decision whether to proceed have not been properly assessed”.
He added: “In a time of unprecedented ecological catastrophe, [Packham] is clear that the law, and moral logic, require the government to think again.”
The Department for Transport said it was considering the claim and would respond in due course.
A DfT spokesperson added: “We understand campaigners’ concerns, and have tasked HS2 Ltd to deliver one of the UK’s most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects. When finished, HS2 will play a key part in our efforts to tackle climate change, reducing carbon emissions by providing an alternative to domestic flights and cutting congestion on our roads.”
HS2 Ltd will build a new high-speed rail line linking London with Birmingham, and later Manchester and Leeds. The Oakervee review, commissioned by Johnson after becoming prime minister, said the costs of the project could rise to more than GBP106bn.
Campaigners say the line will damage or destroy almost 700 wildlife sites, including more than 100 ancient woodlands. HS2 disputes the figure and says only 62 ancient woodlands will be affected, and most of those would remain intact.