DfT ‘refuses to back down’ over £27bn roads legal challenge over carbon emissions
In April the Transport Action Network (TAN) revealed its intentions to launch a legal application to the High Court, as the DfT ignored environmental legislation in approving the five-year funding plan. Now the DfT have given TAN’s lawyers its official response. It has “refused to back down”. The legal challenge by TAN was made, as a result of the judgement by the Appeal Court in February, on the Heathrow case. It ruled that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was illegal, as proper consideration had not been given to carbon emissions and the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. The DfT letter claims, rather improbably, that decarbonisation will be addressed ‘at a society-wide level’ and its largest ever roads plan in fact ‘is a fully-integrated part of this wider effort to reach net zero emissions’. The legal challenge, by the same lawyers who won the Heathrow case, will proceed with the case on road building. As the courts found the ANPS was illegal, any other NPS will have to take carbon properly into account. Heathrow is appealing to the Supreme court on the February ruling, with a hearing on the 9th and 10th October.
DfT ‘refuses to back down’ over £27bn roads challenge
The Department for Transport (DfT) has “refused to back down” following a mounting legal challenge against its £27.4bn road investment plan.
Last month, The Transport Action Network revealed its intentions to launch a legal application to the High Court, on the grounds that the DfT ignored environmental legislation in approving the five-year funding plan.
The DfT refutes this claim and insists that the plans “consistent with our ambitions to improve air quality and decarbonise transport”.
The investment plan, approved in March, includes £14.7bn worth of road route upgrades between 2020 and 2025. The Lower Thames Crossing and the controversial Stonehenge Tunnel are among the major projects which will get underway by 2025.
The Transport Action Network has now received an official response from the DfT in relation to its claim.
“It was no big surprise […] when we finally heard back from the Department for Transport (DfT), it refused to back down,” Transport Action Network founder Chris Todd wrote on the group’s crowdfunding page.
“In its response, it claims decarbonisation will be addressed ‘at a society-wide level’ and its largest ever roads plan in fact ‘is a fully-integrated part of this wider effort to reach net zero emissions’.
Todd adds: “Lowering emissions with one hand by supporting active travel and increasing them by building thousands of miles of roads with the other. How could anyone describe that as joined up?
“Fortunately our lawyers have advised us we have an arguable case, meaning we plan to see (or should that be Zoom) the DfT in court.”
The Transport Action Network is launching the appeal following a court ruling which outlawed Heathrow’s expansion plans.
In that case, Court of Appeal ruled that the government’s Airports National Policy Statement – which backs construction of the third runway – failed to consider the government’s commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions.
The same lawyers involved in blocking Heathrow’s plans are now representing The Transport Action Network.
In the update, Todd adds that the group expects to file “a strong case” with the High Court later this month.
Impact of Net Zero legislation
An NCE investigation carried out last year revealed that Heathrow’s third runway, the Lower Thames Crossing road tunnel and the Sizewell C nuclear plant were among dozens of projects whose plans would have to be redrafted to comply with new net zero legislation.
The Court of Appeal’s ruling on Heathrow expansion now appears to support this conclusion, with Justice Lindblom saying that expansion plans failed to comply with environmental laws.
Projects applying for development consent order (DCOs), and which are sitting at the pre-examination or pre-approval stage are most likely to be face challenges. DCOs are handled by the Planning Inspectorate and are required for large scale projects considered to be of “national interest”.
In total, NCE’s investigation revealed that 64 applications were at the pre-examination or pre-approval stage. Nineteen of these are road projects, six relate to rail works, while 27 are energy projects.
A Planning Inspectorate spokesperson told NCE that any DCO application “will need to take account of the specific legal and policy requirements in place at the point of application.
“There is an obligation on applicants to have regard to and adhere with relevant legislation, policy and guidance including (where applicable) the UK Government’s commitments to tackling climate change.”
At the time of NCE’s investigation, Highways England has the largest number of DCO applications at the pre-examination stage, with 18 projects potentially needing to be redrafted to meet the new regulations.
Among them is the Lower Thames Crossing, the new M54 to M6 link road, and several upgrades to the A1.