Judge’s extraordinary injunction against HS2 protestors banning nearly one million people from trespassing anywhere on 170 mile route

HS2 Protest : pic credit: Construction News

The day after the official mourning period of the Queen ended Mr Justice Julian Knowles issued a judgement that made British legal history for its scope and scale of curbing future protests in England.

His ruling was an astounding victory for the HS2 Ltd – builders of the £98 billion high speed rail line – and Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary recently sacked by Liz Truss, the new PM.

They had sought an injunction to stop campaigners against the route from disrupting activity – such as building tunnels near London Euston and Staffordshire or trying to stop destruction of the countryside – such as in Wendover, Buckinghamshire- by injuncting all the people involved.

But Mr Justice Julian Knowles gave them more than they could have dreamed of – by injuncting any protest activity along the whole route from London to Crewe- and extending it to categories of unknown people as well as the 59 people named in the injunction bringing in hundreds of thousands of other people who support the protestors.

He ruled that “there has been significant violence, criminality and sometimes risk to the life of the activists, HS2 staff and contractors”, adding that “much of the direct action seems to have been less about expressing the activists’ views about the HS2 Scheme, and more about trying to cause as much nuisance as possible, with the overall aim of delaying, stopping or cancelling it via, in effect, a war of attrition”.

Massive legal precedent set by judge

The legal precedent the judge has allowed could open the doors to other national bodies – such as EDF who run state owned nuclear power plants – or Sellafield to seek such wide ranging injunctions against nuclear protestors – or new fracking companies extending their local injunctions to cover the whole of the country. Or the Just Stop Oil protestors – who have dug tunnels at oil terminals – could find them subject to a national ban.

Parliamentary sovereignty invoked

The judge’s reasoning was simple. He was not taking sides on whether he approved or rejected the construction of HS2. Instead he said the scheme had been approved and debated by Parliament and to protest against it by causing criminal damage was effectively in breach of Parliamentary sovereignty. He denied that his decision would have a chilling effect on protests because people could protest peacefully without having to trespass on the site or block construction entrances.

He bought the arguments of HS2 that these had already cost them £120m and could cost £200m and provided work for 27,000 people. He also accepted that HS2 could not afford to employ security staff or ask the police to patrol the entire route. He saw no point on HS2 issuing damages claims against the named individuals because they had no money.

He defended the huge scale of his injunction by saying: “I have anxiously considered the geographical extent of the injunction along the whole of the HS2 route, and whether it should be more limited.

“I have concluded, however, given the plain evidence of the protesters’ intentions to continue to protest and disrupt without limit – ‘let’s keep fucking up HS2’s day and causing as much disruption and cost as possible. Coming to land near you’ – such an extensive injunction is appropriate.”

Warning to over zealous security staff

He did however issue a warning to overzealous security staff injuring protestors citing the case of one person who knelt on a protestor’s neck – similar to the case of George Floyd who died in the US when a policeman knelt on his neck and sparked the Black Lives Matters protests. Presumably he didn’t want a Protestors Lives Matters campaign in the UK.

What is more interesting is the service of the injunction – which could land people in prison if they disobey it.

For the 59 people named he ruled: “Service of this Order on Named Defendants may be effected by personal service where practicable and/or posting a copy of this Order through the letterbox of each Named Defendant (or leaving in a separate mailbox), with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact the package contains a court order. If the premises do not have a letterbox, or mailbox, a package containing this Order may be affixed to or left at the front door or other prominent feature marked with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact that the package contains a court order and should be read urgently.”

But for the unnamed people the judge ruled that Facebook and Twitter had made large number of people know about the injunction. The protestors’ fundraising account had 265,268 followers.

Grant Shapps at the HS2 Old Oak Common construction site Pic credit: HS2 Ltd

“A non-exhaustive review of Facebook shows that information about the injunction and/or the link to a fundraiser has been posted and shared extensively across pages with thousands of followers and public groups with thousands of followers. Membership of the groups on Facebook to which the information has been shared amounts to 564,028.”

So there was no need for HS2 to individually inform these people.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2 Ltd welcomes this judgment and its approval of the route-wide injunction. As Justice Knowles makes clear, this injunction will not, and is not intended to, stop legitimate protest. Instead, we hope the injunction will prevent the violence, intimidation and criminal damage these protests have frequently caused, harming the HS2 project and those working on it, and costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.”

But it looks as though protestors may challenge this judgement

The Guardian reported :” Lawyers representing one of the environmental activists. Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar solicitors, representing the activist James Knaggs, said: “This is a disappointing outcome. This injunction represents a concerning extension of the powers of a state-owned limited company to control and police large swathes of land across England. There is a concern that it constitutes a wide-ranging restriction on protests opposed to HS2 and is of extremely large geographical scope. It applies to very large areas of land, much of which is unfenced and unmarked.”

I can see this issue developing now Liz Truss is committed to creating growth and allowing free market policies at the expense of the environment, human rights and equal justice for all.

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HS2: The train going nowhere

Boris Johnson loves mad grandiose building projects ( remember the third London airport in the Thames Estuary) and more recently a tunnel/bridge under the Irish sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

Picturew of the design for the first HS2 trains

But what is emerging is that that even the most basic grandiose project -London’s Crossrail link and the high speed railway from London to Birmingham can’t be built on time to cost or even properly completed. A failure to integrate Crossrail with the rest of the railway system and continual cost rises for HS2 are the main reasons for delays.

MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last week achieved one first – getting HS2 to provide some proper figures on the real costs. The entire HS2 project – if ever built from London to Scotland – will be £98 billion if not more. The first phase from London to Birmingham now has a budget of £44.6 billion – of which £11 billion has already been spent but we won’t see any results for the travelling public until 2029 at the earliest if not 2032. And probably in reality even later.

What is more disturbing is that service will initially run only from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in west London -not to London Euston where it can connect with other services.

Whitehall still quarrelling over the plans

Worse still internal Whitehall quarrelling means that they haven’t even fixed the most crucial arrangement – what will the Euston terminus look like.

“The redevelopment of Euston station is currently estimated to cost £2.6 billion. Despite HS2 Ltd telling us last year that the design of the station was ready for planning consent, the Department has spent the past 15 months looking for cost saving options and efficiency opportunities, including the potential for a smaller station.

” HS2 Ltd asserts that it is getting close to the point where the programme will literally run out of time if a decision is not made soon, and that Old Oak Common is being set as the London terminus when the railway first opens to decouple it from the risks at Euston.”

Gigantic building site at Euston. Pic credit: Global Railway Review

This is an extraordinary situation. It is made much worse because the area around Euston Station is now one gigantic building site after homes, shops and private businesses that border onto the existing station were demolished. And people living next to the site are being moved because of the noise and dust. And all for a new terminus whose configuration has still to be determined by the Department of Transport and which could be smaller than currently planned.

Further up the line there are disputes involving the land they are purchasing, environmental damage and pollution problems created by the development.

Volume of complaints rising

The MPs report: “We are already concerned about the volume of complaints on disruption from the programme which does not bode well for the future as more communities will be impacted as construction progresses. HS2 Ltd estimates it has handled 124,000 queries over the past three years and interacted with over 76,000 people along the route.

….”the number of complaints from the public about High Speed 2 has increased as main construction on Phase One has started. Complaints to the Independent Construction Commissioner HS2 rose to 86 in the first quarter of 2021 from 74 in the previous quarter. The majority of complaints are about the impact of construction on roads and traffic, vegetation clearance and about noise and vibration. Due to the scale of the programme and the time until the railway is complete, complaints are likely to increase.”

As part of its ” levelling up ” programme the government has promised to reskill the nation so people can get jobs as part of the regeneration of Britain post Brexit. Yet again the MPs point to further failures. The much trumpeted National College for High Speed Rail was a failure in attracting students and has had to be renamed the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure and, most recently, merged with the University of Birmingham.

The MPs report: “The Department admits that the performance of the college has been disappointing and hopes that its latest merger, new leadership and new curriculum from September 2021 will be an opportunity to get the best out of the arrangement. Yet the Department’s involvement with the college has been limited as it falls under the Department for Education’s accountability remit.”

As for extending the railway to Scotland via Leeds and Sheffield that is in doubt and could be scaled back to Crewe. This has been partly confirmed by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who in an interview yesterday with the Financial Times has cast doubt on whether the line from Birmingham to Leeds along the eastern side of England will ever be built – hinting that other projects may have priority.

We want to make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network and not blindly follow some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people.” he said.

This completely contradicts what he said only in May when he promised the government would “complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds”. All this suggests that costs must be mounting up with another U turn in prospect.

If this is levelling up – it is farcical

So what do we have here? An extremely expensive part built railway that may not even initially link Birmingham and central London beset with issues and aeons away from the dream of a high speed line linking Scotland with central London.

If this is to be an example of ” levelling up ” Britain it is just farcical. Meanwhile in the European Union we left the high speed train network goes from strength to strength with new lines and a sleeper train network planned that will reduce the need for air travel – all part financed by British train customers as most of the companies running our train services are owned by state rail companies based in the EU.

Our new high speed train system is going nowhere soon and causing nothing but pain and disruption.

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HS2 Fiasco: Should these two top Whitehall figures get the sack for covering it up?

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport Pic credit: gov.uk
Mark Thurston, the £605,000 a year head of HS2. Pic credit: HS2

The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee out today tells you everything you already knew about HS2 – the high speed rail link from Euston to Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds.

This rail line – at one stage facing being scrapped by Boris Johnson – earned a reprieve despite costs escalating almost out of control from costing £55bn when it was commissioned to an estimated minimum £88 billion today. Even commitments to petitioners against the scheme were wrongly calculated at £245m when the figure is now nearer £1.2 billion .And that may not be the end of the story as costs could still rise while the public will get a much delayed service with fewer trains.

The report also shows there is a huge problem with the redevelopment of Euston station – used by millions of mainline travellers and commuters – which no doubt will create another out of control of budget. We still don’t know the real cost for that.

But what I found really distasteful that Bernadette Kelly, the highly paid permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and Mark Thurston, the UK’s highest paid public official in charge of HS2 – he is on an eyewatering £605,350 salary and got a £46,000 bonus despite not keeping public money under control- conspired to cover up their failings and keep information from the public and Parliament.

The report is quite clear desperate officials were well aware that public money was going down the toilet but decided NOT to tell Parliament and be less than honest in the official annual accounts of HS2 to disguise the mess they faced.

Bernadette Kelly revealed to MPs in March that she had undertaken four separate assessments to see if the project was viable last year – but neglected to tell MPs anything about it when she appeared before them. She claimed it was ” commercial sensitivities ” that held her back.

This is serious stuff. As the report says: ” We are disappointed by the Permanent Secretary’s response to our concerns about her failure to explicitly inform the Committee of the programme’s delays and overspend when asked about the general health of the project.

“This was something that an accounting officer should share with the Committee. Failure of an Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. “

To put it bluntly she may have broken the Civil Service code which lays down the ethics and rules governing how officials should behave and she may have lied to Parliament.

In that case I think there should be an inquiry and if she is found to have behaved as badly as that she should be disciplined or even sacked.

Mark Thurston appears to made sure that his company accounts did not give too many hints of the failure to control money. Why he should have a bonus when his costs went sky high – is a mystery to me. He should pay it back and questions asked whether he is the right man for the job..

I agree with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and deputy chair of the committee: “This PAC report on HS2 is one of the most critical, in both the transparency of Government and the handling of a project, that I have seen in my nine years in total on the committee.

“The Permanent Secretary appeared before the committee in October 2018 and again in May 2019. In March 2019 HS2 Ltd formally told the Department it had breached the terms of the Development Agreement, and would be unable to deliver the programme to cost and schedule – yet the Permanent Secretary did not inform the committee on either appearance that the programme was in trouble.

“This is a serious breach of the department’s duty to Parliament and hence to the public, which as the report says, will undermine confidence. Furthermore, the PAC was in the dark about serious cost overruns and was therefore unable to do its duty to inform Parliament that value for money .on the project was at risk.”

The United Kingdom used to be regarded as a world leader in upholding high standards in public life. The actions of these two individuals in trying to cover their tracks is more in line with a banana republic.