High speed rail plan court ruling a "green light" - Government

LONDON Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:44pm GMT

Birds fly across a field on the planned location of new HS2 high speed rail link as it passes Polesworth, central England, January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Birds fly across a field on the planned location of new HS2 high speed rail link as it passes Polesworth, central England, January 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Staples

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LONDON (Reuters) - The government will forge ahead with a high speed rail link from north to south after winning four out of five court challenges to its plans for the $50 billion (33 billion pounds) project on Friday.

The government planned to address the High Court's criticism of its consultation process over compensation for those affected by the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line, but considered the ruling a signal to press on.

"It is (a) green light to go ahead," Transport Minister Simon Burns told Sky News. "It will not hold us up going ahead with the project, which is in the national interest."

Campaigners and protesters have sought judicial reviews of the government plans for HS2, which will run from London to Birmingham in central England and then to cities in the north.

The HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), which sought to delay the project, also called the judgement a "huge victory" and said the government should go back to the drawing board.

Judge Duncan Ouseley said consultation on compensation had caused substantial financial worry to many people affected by the project's plans.

"The consultation process in respect of blight and compensation was all in all so unfair as to be unlawful," Ouseley said.

Burns said the government would not appeal against Friday's ruling on plans for a project which it says will create around 100,000 jobs, help bring growth to regions outside London as well as add capacity to an already-stretched rail network.

Ouseley rejected four other claims from residents living alongside HS2's planned route stating that it was lawful that the government chose to rule out upgrading the existing network as this would have failed to meet the government's objective of providing a long term boost to capacity and economic growth.

The judge also stated that the government's consultation on environmental assessment and consideration of the impact on habitats and protected species had all been carried out fairly and lawfully.

Construction of the London-West Midlands route is due to start in 2017 with work on the extension to northern England likely to kick off by 2025 to enable the line to be operational by 2033, slashing some journey times by almost a half.

Britain has long grappled with charges that it lags behind other European networks like France's high-speed TGV system, and developing nations like China, which started using the world's longest high-speed railway line in early January.

(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, editing by Paul Casciato)

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