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European Committee to look again at HS2 court decision
AN INFLUENTIAL European committee has said this week it will look again into a key legal decision made over HS2.
The Aarhus Compliance Committee this week said it will look at whether the Supreme Court breached the UK government's obligations towards the Aarhus Convention by ruling no Strategic Environmental Assessment of the project needed to be carried out.
It was said the court's decision breached Article 7 of the code, which requires "effective public participation in plans or programmes relating to the environment".
The announcement means the government will have to justify its position to the Aarhus Compliance Committee - but transport chiefs insist it will not delay HS2.
The original Supreme Court action was brought jointly by Hillingdon Council and the Amersham-based HS2 Action Alliance, with the two groups complaining a proper environmental assessment of the controversial multi billion pound scheme should have been carried out before the public were asked for their views on the proposals.
In their submissions ahead of January's court hearing the two groups said: "The consultation had to be 'within a transparent and fair framework, having provided the necessary information to the public' as required by Article 7.
"It failed to do so...the public consultation was not effective because members of the public were not provided with sufficient information for them to make an informed judgment as to the relative environmental and other advantages and disadvantages of HS2 compared to the alternative options. Members of the public were given an incomplete picture of the environmental effects of HS2."
The Aarhus Committee has decided the two groups' claims need investigating, and it will now make a decision at its Geneva headquarters within the next six months.
Hilary Wharf, director at the HS2 Action Alliance, said: "This decision is a crucial step in getting the government to face up to their environmental responsibilities that they have tried to evade by adopting the Hybrid Bill method of getting planning consent for HS2.
"We have always said that the UK government was wrong but the UK courts have favoured the government. The Aarhus Compliance Committee, part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, has now recognised that our case against the Government needs to be heard."
The Department for Transport said in a statement: "We are confident that the decisions on HS2 have been taken lawfully and fairly. The Aarhus Committee has not accepted these latest complaints, but merely decided that it will now consider them fully.
"Attempts to obstruct HS2 have already been firmly rejected by three courts and we will vigorously respond to the complaints made against us, even though the Aarhus Committee accepts that its recommendations are not binding on the UK. We will continue to drive work forward to ensure that the benefits of HS2 can be realised as soon as possible and in line with our legal obligations."