High Court dismisses legal challenge over Manchester rail link

A High Court judge has thrown out a legal challenge against a planning inspector's decision to recommend approval for a new rail line in Manchester.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

In March transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin approved a Transport and Works Act order for the Ordsall Chord elevated railway, which was planned to link the Bolton and Chat Moss lines.

The scheme, by rail network operator Network Rail Infrastructure, involved demolition of two grade II listed bridges and changes to the setting of three grade I listed buildings dating from 1830.

The secretary of state's decision letter said he agreed with the inspector that the project would be "substantially harmful" to the significance of these structures, and also to the character and appearance of part of the Castleford conservation area. However, went on to approve the development, in line with the inspector’s recommendation.

Mark Whitby, a former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, then mounted a judicial review challenge to the inspector's conclusions. He said that running the new line further to the west, across Midlewood Locks, would cause far less damage to the historic buildings. 

The inspector had rejected the alternative route because of its adverse impact on regeneration proposals for Middlewood Locks. But Whitby argued that not enough account had been taken of the serious harm that would be caused to the heritage assets.

Mrs Justice Lang said she could find no flaw in the inspector’s conclusions. Dismissing the challenge,she said the inspector had clearly given "considerable weight and importance" to the desirability of preserving the heritage assets.

Paying tribute to the inspector's "detailed and careful" report, she said he had correctly applied planning policies and given clear reasons for his decision.

She said: "I acknowledge that these were controversial decisions, with which Mr Whitby, Historic England and no doubt many others disagree." However, she concluded that it was for the inspector to decide on the merits of the new railway and he had made no error of law.

Whitby v Secretary of State for Transport & Others. Case Number: CO/2071/2015

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