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Campaigners raise cash to keep fighting DfT’s £27bn road building plan

Transport Action Network (TAN) will lodge an official appeal against the High Court ruling in favour of the government’s £27bn road investment strategy, after raising the necessary cash to keep up the fight.

The campaign group raised the necessary £5,000 in just two days. If it’s appeal is accepted by the Court of Appeal it will need to raise a further £20,000 – having already crowdfunded more than £70,000 to cover its legal costs thus far.

Mr Justice Holgate dismissed TAN's application for a judicial review on environmental grounds. In making his decision he concluded that approval of RIS2 was in line with legal obligations.

The investment plan, approved in March 2020, includes £14.7bn worth of road route upgrades between 2020 and 2025.

TAN’s main argument claimed that Shapps had failed to consider the plan's effect on the environment. In particular, the High Court claim states that there was a failure to take into account the UK’s net zero carbon emissions target as well as the Paris Climate Agreement. It adds that the government failed to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment of RIS2.

However, Mr Justice Holgate ruled that the “briefing, albeit laconic, was a legally adequate precis”, holding that “on matters of political and economic judgment a claimant for judicial review bears a heavy evidential onus to establish that a decision was irrational, absent bad faith or manifest absurdity”.

He also rejected TAN’s claim that a RIS is an environmental decision-making document. Instead he ruled that it is “essentially a high-level investment strategy” and that there are “other mechanisms by which carbon emissions from the transport sector are monitored and assessed”.

He added: “The government is taking a range of steps to tackle the need for urgency in addressing carbon production in the transport sector. Whether they are enough is not a matter for the Court."

After raising the cash needed to submit its appeal, a spokesperson for TAN said on Twitter: “A BIG thank you to everyone who's donated to help continue our RIS2 roads challenge. We've hit our target in just a couple of days to apply to the Court of Appeal. If our appeal is allowed we will then need to raise more to appear there.”

A separate statement on the group’s crowdfuning page adds: “As the planet overheats and areas around the world suffer devastating floods, our action to stop the UK Government making things worse becomes ever more important. That’s why we are continuing to fight RIS2.

“We’d like you to help us give it one more push to topple a roads programme unfit for the 21st century, when the Government should be investing far more in walking, cycling and public transport.

“While it has set out positive rhetoric in these areas, the levels of funding pale into insignificance compared to what it is still allocating for road-building. If redirected, those billions would be transformative for communities across the country.”

After the ruling, a DfT spokesperson added: “We welcome the court’s judgement, which has found that our approach to assessing the carbon impacts of our road investment strategy was entirely lawful.

“Decarbonising transport is one of our main priorities and earlier this month we published our transport decarbonisation plan setting transport on the path to achieving net zero by 2050.”

The DfT's transport decarbonisation plan – released last month – commits the government to reviewing the National Networks Policy Statement (NNPS), which effectively underpins road investment and planning policy within the UK.

Shapps has confirmed that the review will not be concluded until Spring 2023, meaning road schemes earmarked for construction before then will continue as planned. Planning officials have been instructed to use the existing policy statement as guidance when examining planning applications during the next two years.

The current NNPS was written up in 2014 before the government's legal commitment to net zero was announced, and before the publication of the government's 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, its Sixth Carbon Budget and the transport decarbonisation plan.

The Transport Action Network therefore claims that it is “unacceptable” to keep it in use for the next two years.

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