A protest group is legally challenging the UK government on its plans to implement the national high-speed rail line HS2, but the first phase of the scheme has received approval despite the objections.
The draft legislation of the HS2 Hybrid Bill has received the support of the main political parties in spite of challenges by protest group HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), which has accused the government of failing to comply with parts of the Aarhus Convention.
Under the convention, everyone has the right to receive environmental information held by public authorities, including details about the health and safety of people affected by the state of the environment. It also gives everyone the right to participate in environmental decision making, with comments taken into account, and provides the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions when environment law has been overlooked.
HS2AA has claimed that a restrictive interpretation on the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive breaches the obligations of the convention by allowing major building projects to receive planning permission via parliament instead of using the regular process. In this way, the directive's requirements may be avoided.
The protesters have received the support of Hillingdon Council in London. Council leader Ray Puddifoot commented: "Strategic environmental assessments are the cornerstone of European and international environmental protection legislation, which in simple terms require a developer to identify the goals a project is trying to meet and what alternative ways exist of meeting these goals."
However, environmental and public law expert Francis Tyrell told Out-Law.com that the reference to the Aarhus Convention is unlikely to hamper progress in relation to the HS2 Bill, although a ruling of non-compliance could be "embarrassing".
The HS2 Bill may have cleared its second reading but it was opposed by around 26 Conservative MPs, with numerous abstentions also recorded. Senior minister David Lidington, the minister for Europe and Tory MP for Aylesbury, threatened to resign unless changes are made to the controversial plans.