Campaigners challenging a £27 billion road development scheme have lost their High Court bid against the Department for Transport (DfT).
In March 2020, the DfT set out its Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) for major roads in England from April 2020 to March 2025.
The strategy is made up of 50 major road schemes, including controversial plans for the A303 Stonehenge tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing linking Kent and Essex.
The Transport Action Network (Tan), which supports sustainable transport campaigns, accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the DfT of unlawfully failing to take account of the “obviously material” impact of RIS2 on achieving climate change objectives.
At a hearing in June, Tan argued the scheme was unlawful as the Government failed to consider commitments to tackle climate change, made up of the use of carbon budgets and the legally binding target to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050.
The group also said the scheme had an inevitably “undesirable” impact on the climate which was ignored by Mr Shapps.
DfT had defended the claim, arguing it had “full and proper regard” to the environment when setting the plan, including considering climate change-related impacts on the environment and carbon emissions.
In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Holgate rejected Tan’s bid, finding the net-zero target had “plainly been taken into account” when setting RIS2.
He said: “The (Secretary of State) was advised of the impact of the programme on the net-zero target.
“He did not need to be shown the supporting numerical analysis.
“Some people might think that it would have been better if (he) had been supplied with at least some of that analysis and that that would not have involved overburdening the minister.
“But… that is not the test for a public law challenge.”
The judge said the legislation requires a transport secretary setting an investment strategy such as RIS2 to “have regard to its effect on the environment, without any specific reference to climate change”.
He added that the DfT’s barrister had offered evidence that the Government is “taking a range of steps to tackle the need for urgency in addressing carbon production in the transport sector”.
Mr Justice Holgate continued: “Whether they are enough is not a matter for the court, but the evidence is plain that the Government is seeking to deal with the need for urgency.”
Tan said it was “shocked” by the ruling and intends to appeal.
Director Chris Todd said: “In a month of unprecedented fires and floods, the effect of this judgment is to prioritise the ‘stability and certainty’ of the roads over that of our climate.
“The judgment has failed to grapple with the clear requirement created by Parliament that ministers must carefully consider environmental impacts.”
He continued: “Even if rising waters were lapping at the steps of the courts and Whitehall, it appears scrutiny of government climate decisions would still be side-stepped.
“As the quickening pace of global heating threatens the rule of law, we need legislation upheld rather than ministers let off the hook.”