Leading Yorkshire expert predicts Judicial Review attempts to send HS2 Route off the rails

Thursday 28th February 2013

A judicial review expert at Yorkshire law firm Gordons is predicting a raft of attempts to derail the HS2 high speed link’s proposed route between Leeds and Birmingham.

Matthew Howarth, partner and head of the commercial litigation team, said his prediction was based partly on the fact the firm had already received several approaches from people and organisations who were potentially to be affected by the plans, announced in January.

He added his opinion was also founded on the fact there have been five substantial judicial review applications by groups opposing aspects of the intended line’s London to Birmingham stretch, on which judgments are expected shortly after a nine-day hearing.

The southern section’s envisaged route was unveiled originally in March 2010 and amended in December 2010 and January 2012. It has therefore been in the public domain considerably longer than the proposed northern sections.

Mr Howarth said: “It’s clear that groups of well-organised and impressively-represented objectors have been able to mount formidable judicial review challenges to the decision making process on the southern stretch of HS2 and lessons learned in those cases will inform further challenges in the north.”

Judicial review is the legal doctrine under which decision-making processes by government and other public authorities can be examined, and possibly overturned, by judges, on bases such as they were irrational, unlawful or procedurally unfair.

Mr Howarth said: “Grounds for objection in the south included that HS2 Limited lost response documents to the consultations; the compensation scheme was unfair or that insufficient detail or information had been provided about it; and there had been a lack of detailed reasons for the compensation scheme proposal.

“Other challenges claimed: data that HS2 Limited relied on to show that capacity constraints required the new links was faulty; there had been a failure to comply with Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations, European directives or conventions protecting habitats; and consultation over the proposed routes had been inadequate.”

Mr Howarth said challenges to HS2’s Leeds to Birmingham section were only likely to be encouraged by proposed changes to the legal costs of judicial reviews, (such as capping the costs exposure of claimants) which would make them more accessible and affordable in the future. He added it was also unlikely that the proposed streamlining of the judicial review process – the timing of which was, in any case, uncertain – would curb objectors’ enthusiasm or strength of feeling.

He said: “We expect to be contacted by many more potential objectors as the consultation process over the proposed northern routes continues.”

The announcement of the intended Leeds to Birmingham section in January prompted almost immediate media coverage of potential objectors. These included people in Church Fenton, where there are plans for the line to be mounted “on stilts”, given the danger of flooding. Reports have also featured the dismay of the family behind Swillington Organic Farm, near Leeds, after they discovered the proposed line would go straight through their land.

Work on the £32bn HS2 is planned to begin in 2014 and be complete by 2032.

One of the UK’s most successful law firms with offices in Leeds and Bradford. Gordons has been established for over 168 years, currently employs 280 people and has a turnover of over £25m.  Gordons’ excellence has been recognised in a number of award schemes this year:

  • Business of the Year in the £10m to £50m category in the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards
  • Private Client Team of the Year and Managing Partner of the Year in the Yorkshire Lawyer Awards
  • UK and Ireland Regional Team of the Year in the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners Private Client Awards
  • Property Law Firm of the Year in the Yorkshire Property Industry Awards
  • Runner-up in the Regional Law Firm of the Year category of the Lawyer Awards
  • Highly Commended in the Excellence in Community Investment category of the Law Society Excellence Awards.