Opponents of the Government’s HS2 high-speed rail scheme have asked the High Court to declare the £34bn project legally flawed and send it back for reconsideration.
The first phase of HS2 would see a new, high-speed railway line running through Tory heartlands from London to Birmingham, with a second phase onwards to Leeds and Manchester – the “Y” network – with trains running initially at speeds of up to 225mph, and later potentially reaching 250mph.
The network will also provide links to Heathrow Airport and the Channel Tunnel via the existing High Speed 1 (HS1) line.
The scheme has polarised opinion, with many residents’ groups and some councils bitterly opposing it, but supporters point out the benefits a reduction in journey times between the UK’s biggest cities could bring.
The legal challenge at London’s High Court, which is expected to last seven days, could potentially delay the scheme for years if successful.
The case is being fought in several parts and yesterday, a QC for 51m, an alliance of local authorities opposing HS2, accused the Government of being guilty of fundamental failures.
Nathalie Lieven QC, appearing for 51m, said there had been no proper environmental assessment of the impact of the “entire project”, or the full cumulative impacts of the first phase.
She told Mr Justice Ouseley: “It is a decision involving the purchase and demolition of hundreds of homes.
“In Camden (London) alone between 200-500 dwellings are affected. They have no idea what the figure will be north of Birmingham.”
Ms Lieven said the scheme must also be blocked because of a failure to comply with the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
The second application for judicial review is by campaign group HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) and concerns the legality of compensation arrangements for homeowners living near the proposed line.
Lawyers for HS2AA say homeowners are in danger of not being properly compensated following a “fundamentally flawed” consultation process.
Lawyers say some 172,000 properties within 1km of the first phase have been affected by “a generalised blight” since the proposals were announced.
The High Court is also hearing challenges from the Heathrow Hub group and from Ayles- bury Golf Club in Buckinghamshire.
The then-Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, decided in January this year to proceed with the construction of HS2, with proposals for the Y network to be built in two phases.
They also include direct high-speed services to a new Heathrow Airport station.
But neither the route for the second phase, nor the location of second phase stations, have been identified in Govern- ment documents, the judge was told.
Phase one, expected to cost £16bn, would alone have very significant impact on the environment and homeowners, with demolitions in Camden to accommodate the expansion of Euston Station, Ms Lieven told the judge.
Even though it was decided in January to proceed with the entire project, it was impossible to assess the impact on the environment of the second phase, even in broad terms, because no route had been published.
This was in breach of environmental impact regulations, she argued.
With regard to phase one, route alterations had been made that had not been subject to consultation.
Ms Lieven listed other legal flaws which, she argued, meant the whole project must be reconsidered.