The future of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing was highlighted this week (Tuesday and Wednesday, June 29-30) when a legal challenge against the government’s roadbuilding programme was heard in the High Court. The challenge was brought by the Transport Action Network and targeted the Department for Transport’s £27.4 billion roadbuilding scheme (labelled Road Investment Strategy 2, or RIS2), saying it breached climate and air quality laws. TAN claims the government has failing to consider fully the Paris Agreement, which commits the UK to tackling climate change by limiting global warming to less than 2°C. Indeed, the group says the transport secretary pulled plans to cut CO2 emissions for a tranche of upgrades and new schemes. RIS2 includes 50 schemes, the largest of which is the £8.2bn Lower Thames Crossing. TAN said it expected the DfT to contest its challenge, saying commitments to climate change were not “obviously material” to roadbuilding schemes. However, Chris Todd, TAN director, said: “Trying to argue climate change isn’t ‘obviously material’ to approving the largest-ever roads programme is like saying public health is not relevant to reform of smoking rules. “In an audacious attempt to protect his addiction to asphalt, [Transport Secretary Grant ] Shapps is now seeking a legal precedent that decision-makers can ignore climate targets. “This puts ministers on a collision course with the Climate Change Committee, which [has] called on the government to adopt a Net Zero Test for all policy decisions.” Laura Blake, chairman of the Thames Crossing Action Group, said: “We know that the proposed Lower Thames Crossing would create over five million tonnes of carbon emissions, along with all the other negative impacts which we would suffer if the LTC were to go ahead. “We have many serious concerns about the impacts of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing and feel it is essential that all the negative impacts of the scheme should be taken into account. “We are grateful to TAN for bringing this legal challenge on climate grounds against the government’s £27bn roadbuilding programme, which of course includes the £8.2bn Lower Thames Crossing. “We wholeheartedly support this legal challenge and appreciate all the hard work by TAN and the legal team.”
Well, it was never going to go smoothly, was it! The granting of a Development Consent Order allowing developer RiverOak Strategic Partners to reopen Manston airport as a freight hub is to be quashed. The Department for Transport has accepted that the DCO approval letter from Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State for Transport, did not contain enough detail on why the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority were effectively dismissed. The Examining Authority had been clear that the DCO should not be granted. It is understood that its approval will be quashed within three weeks, with a revised decision needed after the Planning Inspectorate evidence is re-examined. The likely revocation of the DCO means a judicial review of Mr Stephenson’s decision scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-17, at the High Court will not now go ahead. The review had been launched by Jenny Dawes, chair of Ramsgate Coastal Community Team. However, on Wednesday last week (December 2), she wrote on her CrowdJustice page set up to help fund the judicial review: “… yesterday my solicitors received a letter from the Treasury Solicitor, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, which said ‘my client has agreed to concede this claim on the basis of ground 1(b), namely that the Secretary of State did not give adequate reasons in his decision letter to enable the reader to understand why he disagreed with the Examining Authority Report on the issue of need for the development of Manston Airport’. “We subsequently learned that the Interested Party, RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd, will not be defending their claim. “My lawyers set out three grounds of challenge to the decision to grant a Development Consent Order for the re-opening and development of Manston Airport: Ground 1: Need Ground 2: Breach of Procedural Requirement/Unfairness Ground 3: Net Zero Duty” Two days later, Friday (December 4), Ms Dawes added: “Following the quashing of the Manston Airport Development Consent Order 2020 by the Court, the Secretary of State will write to all interested parties, setting out key issues and inviting further written representations on those issues. “Interested parties include the applicant, the local authority and anyone who previously registered by filling out a Relevant Representation form at the inquiry stage (and had it accepted as valid). “The Secretary of State will make a decision based on the Examining Authority’s Report and the further representations. The Secretary of State has three months to make a decision but this can be extended. “The decision could be either a refusal to make a Manston Airport Development Consent Order or a decision to grant such a Consent Order. “If a DCO is refused, RSP may wish to bring a judicial review. I would be an Interested Party in any such challenge. “If a DCO is granted, another judicial review can be brought on the existing grounds and any further grounds that may arise on review of the decision letter. “Any money left over from the current CrowdJustice campaign can be held in readiness and used towards a second judicial review.” At the time of writing, that campaign had seen more than £88,000 pledged towards the initial review. Responding in July to the news of the DCO approval, Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, had said: “It is shocking that four inspectors spent some nine months preparing a report and concluded very strongly that the DCO should be refused. “The developer was not able to demonstrate need, there were adverse impacts on traffic and transport and there were concerns over noise pollution. “Most importantly, though, the Examining Authority recommended the Secretary of State refuse the DCO due to conservation of habitats and species regulations. “In short, the inspectors’ conclusions were ignored. “This decision flies in the face of the Heathrow third-runway judgement where the Court of Appeal ruled that proposals had failed to consider this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.” Although the Manston decision had to be made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, the DfT said Mr Shapps had “not personally been involved in this decision because of a conflict of interest, following previous statements of support made prior to his appointment as the Secretary of State for Transport” and the decision had “in practice been allocated to and taken by the Minister of State for Transport, Andrew Stephenson”.