Campaigners angry at Prime Minister's judicial review plans

David Cameron's views on judicial review reform have angered HS2 campaigners

David Cameron's views on judicial review reform have angered HS2 campaigners

First published in News Bucks Free Press: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

ANGRY HS2 campaigners have hit out at the Prime Minister's announcement he plans to cut back on the number of consultations his government holds and the amount of judicial reviews at court.

David Cameron said yesterday a cutback in red tape was the only way to boost Britain's flagging economy.

But the timing of his announcement - two weeks before the HS2 business case is considered in a High Court judicial review - has angered those opposed to the multi million pound project.

Joe Rukin, campaign coordinator for the Stop HS2 group, said: "We feel it is hardly a coincidence that the government is now talking about reducing their exposure to the laws of the land just a fortnight before the first tranche of judicial reviews into their half-baked HS2 plans are heard.

"The government seem to be making out that they believe any of their infrastructure plans should be above the law and do not realise that it is essential in a democratic society to be able to hold the government to account."

In his speech at the Confederation of British Industry conference, Mr Cameron said the number of judicial reviews taking place now has increased fourfold compared to ten years ago.

But Mr Rukin hit back, saying: "The more worrying thing is that the Prime Minister just wanted to make a speech that sounded good without having a clue what he is talking about. He talks about a growth industry in judicial reviews without realising that this is due to cases on immigration and that the majority of planning cases are actually taken by developers."

The 51m alliance, representing the local authority areas affected by HS2, said in a statement: "We must be careful not to brand everything that we find inconvenient as inherently wrong or malicious. For local people a judicial review may be the only way for local people or businesses to prevent public bodies acting illegally.

"It is rarely the case that judicial reviews are the 'road block' implied. Major changes have been made for the public good as a result."

In his speech the Prime Minister said businesses needed the same spirit shown during the Second World War to defeat Hitler.

But Cllr Seb Berry, who was elected to Chiltern District Council on an anti-HS2 ticket, said: "The PM's remarks represent yet another assault on local rights from the Conservative-led coalition. Comparing the wartime spirit needed to beat Hitler with policies which he thinks are necessary to boost growth in 2012 is plainly ridiculous. 

"Every time the leader of the Conservative party comments on these issues, he demonstrates how out of touch he is with rural opinion and is digging an ever bigger hole for his party's local candidates in May 2013."

Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan was among those to voice her concerns at the Prime Minister's remarks, saying: "Whilst wanting our economy to thrive, we must be very careful in restricting judicial reviews and impact assessments and short circuiting consultations.

"When people’s homes, lives and businesses are severely impacted by government proposals, they must, in a democracy, have their views considered."

In his speech Mr Cameron said: "Government has been like someone endlessly writing a pros and cons list as an excuse not to do anything - consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing a professional buyer, applying for EU procurement: this is not how we became one of the most powerful and successful nations on earth.

"It's not how we get things done. As someone said, if Christopher Columbus had an advisory committee he'd probably still be in the dock."

Mr Cameron said he proposed cutting red tape by "cutting back on judicial reviews, reducing government consultations" and the best way to boost Britain's economy is "quite simply getting our roads and railways built more quickly".

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