Posted 17th April 2013 | 19 Comments

'51M' councils spend over £1m opposing HS2

EIGHTEEN local councils between London and Staffordshire and Leicestershire opposing plans for HS2 have already spent “over £1 million” of taxpayers’ money campaigning against the new railway — and now face higher bills to repay the government’s claim for costs after losing all their challenges in a High Court judicial review.

The rising costs to the ‘51M’ group, which is co-ordinated by Buckinghamshire County Council, are disclosed in a report to the executive committee of Warwick District Council, one of the consortium’s 18 members which are all facing an overspend because the judicial review went on longer than expected.

When 51M first announced its plans to challenge the government with a judicial review it anticipated only a brief court hearing, saying: “The total cost of the legal action will not be known until after the two-day hearings. Aylesbury Vale District Council has pledged £150,000 of taxpayersʼmoney to fight the plans and Bucks County Council offered £500,000 over three years.”

Warwick council, which joined 51M and budgeted £100,000 of council taxpayers’ support, now says its contribution will be overspent by £19,000 because the court hearing lasted eight days — and it could have to find another £20,000 as its share of paying the government’s costs of defending 51M’s unsuccessful challenges in the High Court. 

Despite the overspend Warwick council is being recommended, along with other councils, to support an appeal against the findings of Mr Justice Ouseley, who led the judicial review. He rejected all their challenges and only upheld that of the HS2 Action Alliance about the way the Department for Transport had conducted consultation on compensation proposals. The government has said it will re-run that consultation.

The report to Warwick council’s executive committee states: “It is the intention of 51M to mount a further legal challenge (appeal) against the findings of the recent judicial review in order (at best) to cause enough delay in the proceedings to improve the chances of the abandonment of HS2, or (at least) to seek improvements to any mitigation or compensation that may come forward as a consequence of its implementation.

“Hillingdon, Buckinghamshire, Camden and Chiltern councils have stated that they are going to proceed with an appeal and if necessary finance this from their own resources. Other councils have, however, pledged financial assistance to a lesser degree in order to share the burden and continue to signal the solidarity of the 51M consortium.”

Warwick council’s officers warn their executive committee: “Cost estimates of an appeal to 51M are between £70,000 and £100,000.

“The Government’s costs are anticipated to be similar, therefore if 51M and co-petitioners (the HS2 Action Alliance) were to lose they would be exposed to adverse costs and a total overall expenditure of up to £200,000 (those of the court and the government).”

Commenting last week on the outcome of the judicial review, law firm Charles Russell LLP said: “The ruling remains subject to appeal by the objectors on the nine grounds (out of 10) where challenges were dismissed.

“However, a judicial review ruling based on extensive argument heard between 3 and 17 December 2012 would be very difficult to overturn on appeal.”

•  The councils making up the 51M consortium are:  London Borough of Camden, London Borough of Hillingdon; Three Rivers District Council (Hertfordshire); Buckinghamshire County Council, South Bucks District Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council, Wycombe District Council, Chiltern District Council; Oxfordshire County Council, Cherwell District Council (Oxfordshire); South Northamptonshire Council; Warwickshire County Council, Stratford-on-Avon District Council, Warwick District Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council; Coventry City Council; Lichfield District Council (Staffordshire); Harborough District Council (Leicestershire).

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Martin, Stratford upon Avon

    @Prestwick. You may wish to re-read my text and not the quoted text from Ann. I believe we are in agreement. I do NOT support my Council (WDC and SDC) tax money lobbying against HS2 now....or ever for that matter, budget shortfall or service cuts notwithstanding.

  • Prestwick, Tonbridge

    @Martin: But unlike the 33 billion - which will only effect you from 2017 onwards and is spread over twenty years - the 1 million+ will effect YOU right NOW in cuts to services and shortfalls in budgets.

  • Martin, Stratford upon Avon

    @Ann "This is a drop in the ocean compared with the 33bn plus the Government are planning to waste on building it. I am a Warwickshire resident and am quite happy about them spending such a comparatively minor amount to fight against HS2"

    ....and 33bn over 17 years or more is a mere drop in the ocean of Government spending, if you care to look at the bigger picture. I too am a Warwickshire resident and I am completely unhappy about both WDC and SDC spending my Council tax money when they haven't asked, fighting something that will benefit the majority of the residents rather than the few, and particularly the younger generation who will not thank the current lot (us) if it is held back or overlooked for our own selfish reasons in years to come.

  • Des, Stafford

    What most annoys me in Staffordshire is the vast majority of the populace have never had the case 'for or against' HS2 put to them. It would seem our Councils and some MPs are only consulting with vested interests (landowners) and totally ignoring the long-term infrastructure needs of all who work and live in the county.

    The Potteries and Stafford have considerable youth unemployment and lack of jobs has put pressure on trains as more are forced to commute to the West Midlands and Manchester. It's time they took a more positive approach and campaigned to be linked to HS2 otherwise these areas will become backwaters "off the beaten track". Stafford has lost many shops it's hospital is threatened yet HS2 phase 1 has the potential to deliver the major regeneration and connectivity these towns need. All we hear is negativity from officials who will not live to see the consequences of their backward thinking actions.

  • Peter Davidson, Alderley Edge, NW.England

    @George, Morpeth, Northumberland: "My complaint is that, if HS2 happens, every UK household is going to be paying around £1500 for a project justified by spin & dodgy assumptions. 11p sounds very good value in comparison and the UK should be grateful that others are prepared to fight against such a huge sum being spent on one vanity infrastructure project at the expense of the rest of our infrastructure."

    So I must have imagined the £37bn programme of works planned for 2014-19 control period - reported in these very columns?

    Now let me see, that's a planned headline budget of £33bn for HS2 over 17 years, or approx £2bn per annum pro-rata, compared with £37bn over five years for the existing rail network, or in excess of £5bn per annum pro-rata - and you said "such a huge sum being spent on one vanity infrastructure project at the expense of the rest of our infrastructure"

    Seems as though both your judgement and maths skills need some attention - just glad you're not in charge of strategic transport planning?

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    "one vanity infrastructure project at the expense of the rest of our infrastructure."

    [Goes, "oh no, not this one again", bangs head on wall.]

    So, quick question: how many of the following rail projects have been cancelled to fund HS2?

    1) Crossrail
    2) Thameslink Programme
    3) Northern Hub
    4) East-West Link
    5) Tyne and Wear Metro moderisation
    6) Great Western upgrade
    7) Brimingham New Street Modernisation
    8) Midland Mainline electification (and yes, StopHS2, HS2AA and 51m stated as fact that this wouldn't happen because of HS2, a few months before it got the go-ahead. Oops.)
    9) Waverly Line re-instatement
    10) Edinburgh trams

    This is on my list of "zombie arguments". No matter how many times you shoot it down, it just gets up again, and again, and again.

  • George, Morpeth, Northumberland

    I understand this amounts to a spend of around 11p per council taxpayer in each area on average. That sounds like good value to fight something which is going to bring nothing to your area but blight with no rewards.
    My complaint is that, if HS2 happens, every UK household is going to be paying around £1500 for a project justified by spin & dodgy assumptions. 11p sounds very good value in comparison and the UK should be grateful that others are prepared to fight against such a huge sum being spent on one vanity infrastructure project at the expense of the rest of our infrastructure.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Those of you in favour of councils spending this money need to be aware that councils further north are spending money to fight FOR HS2!

    Simply search Internet and you will find them!

    Simple solution fund BOTH SIDES OR NEITHER BY LAW!

  • Leslie burge, leicester

    Our local councils ( Leicester) Spend minute amounts on railways .
    So why are they wasting our money opposing this .If it blights peoples property then surely it is up to them not the taxpayer to oppose it in the courts.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "casting aside of its AONB protection"

    So, let's ask the same question yet again:

    When the M40 and A41 ploughed through the Chilterns and considerably greater land take, where were you?

  • Dean, Bedford

    A disgrace, frankly.

    Councils should be forbidden to use resources in this way whilst other departments are being cut. There are quite happy to see their collegues lose their jobs whilst they frivolously pursue their self-fulfilling prophesy at the expense of every tax payer in the country.

    Fight your battles for compensation, fine, I agree with that, but the funds should be privately generated as the taxpayer is in effect paying for it twice.

  • John, Wendover

    As a person that pays this tax I'd say it's money well spent. Unlike my taxes that are going to fund HS2.

  • SouthHeathen, Buckinghamshire

    Councillors opposed to HS2 in the Chilterns could demonstrate to government that the casting aside of its AONB protection, for a 33.6 billion pound, EU motivated, vanity project, was unacceptable, by resigning from the party en-mass. It would be considerably cheaper than fighting them in the courts, where I for one doubt they could ever beat the system and if followed by councillors elsewhere along the route, would really pressurise them to think again.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    One has to ask why are these councils allowed to spend 1 million for one side of the argument without having to give the same amount to pro HS2 groups?

    One also has to ask why Eric Pickles allows this spending and yet objects to a local council in London producing a newspaper ?

    As to further challenges then why is no one challenging further spending when nothing will change until legislation is published?

  • Rich G, London

    Its good to see that councils are actually spending money on a good cause if you ask me - HS2 is an expensive publicly funded disaster waiting to happen and who will voice the public's outrage at being steamrollered by politicians and their lobbyist cronies otherwise?

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I don't think many readers are aware of the huge disruption caused by removing one road bridge (for a temporary period of time) when a new Motorway or railway line is built. Sometimes local residents have to travel upto 30 miles just to get to work on a route which only takes them normally 5 minutes. Building new Tram lines in recent years has made many businesses bankcrupt because passing trade vanishes. Underground railways such as Crossrail have much less disruption. Villages near Reading have had trouble even getting their children to school when bridges have been replaced for the GW electrification. I fully understand why Councils oppose any huge new development whatever it is. I am aware that huge amounts of compensation may be available nowadays but local residents still don't like the disruption.

  • Ann, Birmingham

    This is a drop in the ocean compared with the 33bn plus the Government are planning to waste on building it. I am a Warwickshire resident and am quite happy about them spending such a comparatively minor amount to fight against HS2.

  • beleben, GB

    Are you going to report the amounts spent by councils, transport authorities and other public funded bodies on promoting HS2?

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    The daft thing is that had these councils concentrated on pushing for services that serve the 51m area, either through branches from HS2 line or a station, they would probably have got it. I quite like the idea of a hub station somewhere near Calvert, which would provide easy connections to places like Aylesbury, Amersham, Bicester and Oxford once East-West Rail is up and running. Cheryl Gillan could easily have used her position in Cabinet as a bargaining chip. But they didn't make the case for this, there is a strong counter-argument with capacity, and it's very difficult to see the government, HS2 ltd or Network Rail being talked round now.

    Or, if they wanted the rail line re-routed along existing transport corridors, they could have had a very strong ally in the form of Mark Smith (of Man in Seat 61 fame), who I suspect could easily have been talked on board on the grounds that he lives in, err, Aylesbury. I know that the current consensus amongst the pro-HS2 camp is that the current route and speed is the best one, but he puts up a very good argument questioning the need for a line so fast or straight (although he firmly agrees a new line of some sort is needed). This would, of course, have been incompatible with the argument that you can solve everything with the 51m "optimised" "alternative", which is why I guess 51m didn't want to know.

    However, I can't help thinking that the people complaining the loudest about HS2 not serving counties like Bucks would have no intention of using the service if they ever did get their stop. The woeful level of ignorance shown by most of the anti camp makes me suspect the vast majority of them intend to drive everywhere and to hell with anyone else.