High Court rejects challenge against HS2 tunnel works

The High Court has dismissed a judicial review challenge to a decision by the firm delivering the High Speed Two (HS2) rail project to select a preferred design option for part of the HS2 route through central London that a homeowner claimed would violate her human rights.

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

Hero Granger-Taylor, who has lived for over 60 years in a John Nash-designed listed Georgian villa in Park Village East, to the north of Regent's Park, claims that plans to build three railway tunnels under the area threaten to trigger the collapse of a large retaining wall.

High Speed Two, the firm delivering the project, has selected the three tunnels approach as its preferred design option for part of the HS2 route.

On the basis of expert engineering evidence, Granger-Taylor argued at London's High Court that the three tunnels project was fundamentally unsafe and that it would, if built, violate her human rights to respect for her home and family life and to peacefully enjoy her private property.

The works would have deemed planning consent under the HS2 Act which granted consent for the first phase of the HS2 project..

Rejecting her judicial review challenge last week, Mr Justice Jay said he was unconvinced that the three tunnels scheme cannot be built safely.

He also ruled that a fair balance had been struck between Granger-Taylor's private interests and the wider public interest in implementing HS2.

The retaining wall, which is 12 metres high and three metres thick, was built in 1901 and stands about 17 metres from the front of Granger-Taylor's home.

It separates a road from a cutting of the London-Birmingham railway ten metres below.

Granger-Taylor is concerned that the apex, or crown, of one of the tunnels would pass just 1.5 metres from the wall's foundation and that the complex interrelations between the three tunnels might create a heightened risk of ground movement.

She presented expert engineering evidence to the court, indicating that the design of the three tunnels proposal is "inherently dangerous" and would risk triggering the wall's catastrophic collapse.

The engineering challenge of building a tunnel so close to the wall's base was said to be "insurmountable".

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Jay said Granger-Taylor's engineering expert had made "a number of apparently compelling points" concerning the safety of the three tunnels design.

But he told the court: "It is impossible to accept that High Speed Two (HS2) Limited is so reckless and so wilful that it is dogmatically persevering with a concept that it does not believe can be delivered safely.

"Ms Granger-Taylor has failed to persuade me that the three tunnels' design is unattainable... I cannot conclude on all the evidence that the design is so inherently flawed in the vicinity of the retaining wall that no engineering solution could be found to construct it safely.

"Despite the evident engineering challenges, the three tunnels design has a number of clear environmental and operational advantages.

"It would minimise physical interaction with the conventional rail network and thereby reduce disruption to existing rail services; it would obviate the need to remove railway bridges etc., and it would reduce construction impacts on local residents".

HS2 and the transport secretary had in any event made it clear that whether the three tunnels project proceeds remains "an open question", the judgement said.

They assured the court that no works would be carried out before full risk assessments and safety appraisals had been carried out.

The judge said that it was not his role, in judicial review proceedings, either to subject the engineering evidence to minute analysis or to express any view about the underlying merits of the scheme.

The three tunnels design, he ruled, would not impose a "disproportionate or excessive burden" on Granger-Taylor, who would have a number of legal remedies available to her if the project harmed her property interests.

The design, he concluded, "strikes a fair balance between her private interests and the wider public interest in implementing an important infrastructure project in line with primary legislation".

Granger-Taylor's judicial review application was dismissed.

R on the Application of Granger-Taylor v High Speed Two (HS2) Limited. Case Number: CO/4020/2019

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