HS2 legal row continues

A legal battle over the HS2 railway scheme is continuing, after Mr Justice Singh granted permission for a Judicial Review of the government decision not to publish a report which showed the project was in danger of failing.

Since a request in May 2012, Ministers have been withholding a critical report from the Major Projects Authority, which rated the HS2 Rail project as “amber-red”. This is despite the Information Commissioner ordering the report’s publication.

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin pulled out of a tribunal investigating the case in December, less than 24 hours before a public hearing was due to happen. The Government had been advised by their own lawyers that they were likely to lose, with McLoughlin and Francis Maude writing to David Cameron saying publication of the report would cause HS2 ‘presentational difficulties’. As a result, the Government blocked further publication using a rare veto.

The courts will now investigate the lawfulness of that decision.

HS2 is a planned high-speed railway from London to Scotland, passing through Buckinghamshire.

The judge ruled that the arguments in the HS2 case were similar to those which the Government lost in a recent appeal court case. A Guardian journalist’s request for correspondence between Prince Charles and various government departments was similarly vetoed. The Government is appealing that decision and the judge today ruled that this HS2 case should await that decision in the Supreme Court.

The judge has also given permission to Dr Paul Thornton, who originally requested the report, to put additional arguments to the court.

Speaking after the hearing, Dr Thornton said: “It is disgraceful that our case must wait even longer. Allowing the government to procrastinate legally undermines the purpose of the regulations to ensure that the democratic process is properly and promptly informed in decision making that has a major effect on the environment.

“But while it might take another year of argument, the report will ultimately be published and until then people should recognise that when the government makes grand claims for HS2 they are holding back the full story.”