High-speed rail plans suffered a setback after a High Court judge today ruled a consultation on the project was “unlawful”.
The £32.7 billion scheme is meant to have 225mph trains running between London and Birmingham by 2026, with more to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
The judge’s decision means that the 2011 consultation into compensation for affected properties must be re-run in a process likely to take several months.
However, the judge threw out nine out of 10 objections to the overall HS2 project, meaning it can go ahead.
The fact the consultation was unlawful is another blow for the Department for Transport, which was forced to tear up a franchise deal to run trains on the West Coast Main Line after mistakes in calculations were made by civil servants.
It cost the taxpayer £50 million to refund the bids for the line by potential operators such as Virgin Trains and First Group and to pay staff, advisers and lawyers.
Today’s ruling means that the consultation for people whose homes are blighted by HS2 has to take place all over again.
But rail minister Simon Burns said: “This is a major landmark victory for HS2 and the future of Britain. The judge has categorically given the green light for the Government to press ahead without delay in building a high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
“We will look at compensation closely. We will not appeal it. We will re-run the compensation consultations. It is creating a longer period of uncertainty for those people who may be eligible for compensation.
“This will delay things further but will not hold us up from going ahead with a project that is in the national interest.”
Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting at London’s High Court, is now hearing submissions from lawyers on the appropriate remedy for HS2. The decision was a victory for the High Speed 2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), consisting of more than 70 affiliated action groups and residents’ associations.
The project is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business. But the scheme has been mired in controversy for years because it will result in swathes of countryside, including parts of Staffordshire, being torn up to make way for new tracks.
Some 172,000 properties within 0.6 miles of the first phase are alleged to be affected by “HS2 blight”.
David Wolfe QC, appearing for HS2AA, said tens of thousands of people who “just happen to live and own properties” along the high-speed route faced loss of value on their homes and being unable to move or remortgage for 15 years or more.