One of the key claims used to justify building HS2 was blown out of the water in a dramatic first day at the High Court – when it emerged trains on one of Britain’s busiest routes are only half full (writes Andrew Kay, from the High Court).
The Government had claimed the high speed line was needed because ‘many services on the West Coast Mail Line, East Coast and Midland Main Lines are already extremely full’.
Campaigners have spent two years trying to get the Department for Transport to release the ‘loading figures’, which were finally unveiled on Friday ahead of this week’s legal battle.
They show trains leaving Euston on the West Coast Mail Line in peak evening times are only 52.2% full.
The revelation was made public by campaigners on the first afternoon of their seven-day High Court judicial review, which aims to prove the government’s decision to press ahead with HS2 was unlawful.
Nathalie Lieven QC, speaking on behalf of the 51m group of 15 councils challenging the plans, said it proved their ‘optimised alternative’ of lengthening existing trains and making improvements could work.
The leader of 51m and Bucks County Council Martin Tett said: “Previous secretaries of state have relied on the argument that the existing West Coast Main Line is full to capacity and that has been a prime reason they have given for HS2, even though they have failed to provide the evidence.
“This blows a hole through their argument about capacity.”
Hilary Wharf, from the HS2 Action Alliance, said: “We have been vindicated. We did a survey of our own and we put the loading figures at around 56%, but the Government were not prepared to release the figures.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “HS2 will bring cities closer together, drive regeneration, tackle overcrowding and stimulate economic growth.
“While it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific claims, the Government is confident that the decisions on HS2 have been taken lawfully and fairly and it is vigorously defending these legal challenges.”
The Bucks Herald understands that when it makes its case to the High Court later this week, to combat the arguments made against it, the DfT will argue that the current loading figures will increase which justifies HS2.
The HS2 Action Alliance is bringing two separate judicial reviews against the high speed plans (starting today, Tuesday).
The first criticises the environmental studies that were carried out, claiming without more detail it breaches EU law.
The second focuses on the consultation, raising the fact that its own 150-page report was ‘misplaced’ along with other answers.
The High Court will hear a total of five judicial reviews, including arguments by the Fairford Leys-based Aylesbury Park golf Club which claims it was not consulted about changes to the route. The Heathrow Hub will oppose changes to the way the airport would be connected to the high speed line.
What is HS2?
A government plan, supported by all three major parties, for high speed trains to run from London’s Euston to Lichfield in the West Midlands by 2026 (reducing journey times to 49 minutes from one hour 12 minutes). The trains will not stop en route in the counties which they pass through such as Buckinghamshire. By 2033 the high speed trains will continue to Manchester and Leeds (the ‘Y’ network) and be connected to Heathrow airport.
What is the 51m group?
A coalition of 15 councils (including five from Bucks) along the first phase of the route which oppose the plans. The councils have so far spent £165,000 bringing a judicial review, which equates to 9p for every resident in the 15 council areas. 51m says the total cost of the legal action will not be known until after the hearings. Aylesbury Vale District Council has pledged £150,000 of taxpayers’ money to fight the plans and Bucks County Council offered £500,000 over three years.
What else have campaigners raised at the High Court?
Nathalie Lieven QC, representing the 51m group of councils fighting the plans, told The Hon Mr Justice Ouseley she believed a consultation into the principle of building a high speed rail line was carried out ‘unfairly’ – because respondents were asked to comment without seeing any plans for the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds sections. She pointed out that the Labour government had intended to hold two consultations, one for each phase of the line, before deciding whether to approve the plans. Ms Lieven said: “There will be a large number of people directly and seriously affected by HS2 that had no idea about it when the consultation into whether the plans should go ahead took place. Because of the scale of the project people might have a good idea of what the impact will be in smaller projects but that’s not the case with HS2. If you’re a local authority you can know that a part goes through your area, but you cannot know the impact as you don’t know if it’s going to go through a tunnel for example.”
On Tuesday who did the government announce as the new HS2 Director General?
David Prout, currently a director general at the Department of Communities and Local Government. He will join the Department for Transport in the New Year in a newly-created post taking charge of the delivery of HS2. He said: “Making HS2 a reality is absolutely crucial to our country’s future prosperity and I am very pleased to have been asked to take leadership of this much-needed programme at this time. “I look forward to helping to take the project through Parliament and continuing to demonstrate the very real need for more capacity for people and freight on our railways, which will help make Britain a more prosperous and less congested country. Philip Rutnam, DfT permanent secretary, said: “HS2 is a hugely important programme for the future of the UK. I am very pleased that David Prout will be taking charge at such an exciting time. He will be leading a team which is already hard at work delivering this project, as well as liaising closely with HS2 Ltd, as we work together to introduce the legislation into Parliament on time next year that will make HS2 a reality.”