The High Speed 2 railway project has been the subject of several important rulings. Firstly the Supreme Court has dismissed the action group and local authority appeals.1 They held that the Decisions and Next Steps paper produced by Ministers was not subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive because it did not constrain the decision-making process of Parliament. How the Court’s views on a distinction between merely influencing subsequent consideration and setting limits on the scope of what can be considered will be understood in a non-Parliamentary context remains to be seen. The other aspect of the judgments was the Court’s conclusion that the Hybrid Bill process, under recently amended Standing Orders, was able to meet the European Union law requirements for an exemption from the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
Two Parliamentary Committees have ruled on the procedure being adopted for the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill. When the Environmental Statement was deposited and put online for consultation, some 870 pages were missed out. This was picked up and corrected before Christmas, but after the consultation period had begun. The House of Commons Standing Orders Committee decided that consequently the consultation ought to close on 10th February rather than 24th January. Due to the same problem, the House of Lords Standing Orders Committee decided that the consultation should be extended to 27th February. This has been accepted by the government.
At least 28 days will then be required for preparation of an assessor’s report summarising the consultation responses, with a 14-day gap between the publication of the report and Second Reading. Petitions can be lodged following the Second Reading debate which is now likely to be after Easter. It will be important to all parties to try to resolve as many of the local issues raised by petitions as soon as possible – ideally avoiding hearings. Consideration is being given to introducing mediation to facilitate settlements of petitions and in respect of the details of the construction of the railway following Royal Assent.