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Road into the sunset

Transport Action Network challenges refusal to review national transport strategy

A transport environment campaign group has issued a legal challenge to the unchanged policy support for the expansion of England’s roads network.

Posted on 12 December 2020

Transport Action Network (TAN) has applied for judicial review of the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision not to review the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS).

The NPS was designated in 2014, before the Paris Agreement which requires the UK to quickly and sharply reduce carbon emissions, and before the June 2019 Amendment to Climate Change Act 2008 introducing the net zero target. TAN claims Mr Shapps’ decision not to review the NPS in light of those changes is irrational and unlawful.

Represented by Leigh Day solicitors, TAN has based its application for judicial review on those grounds. It claims:

  • It is irrational that Grant Shapps considered that material changes to the NPS are not required in light of the Paris Agreement, net zero target and developments in air pollution law and increased understanding of risks posed by PM2.5 particulates, which the current NPS simply ignores. His failure to consider those factors arguably breached his duty to have regard to the need to mitigate climate change under Section 10 Planning Act 2008, and gave rise to a risk of unlawful decision-making. He further failed to give lawful reasons for those conclusions.
  • Grant Shapps’ view that there had been no significant changes to policy in relation to the natural environment is irrational and failed to take into account the 25 Year Environment Plan issued in 2018 and subsequent guidance on valuing natural capital. The failure to give reasons for his conclusion is unlawful.
  • The programme of road schemes supported by the NPS have never been subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which would have been another reason for review.

Chris Todd, Director of Transport Action Network said:

“Since this roads policy was approved in 2014, surface transport emissions have barely changed and are now the biggest source of carbon. It’s clearly time for a radical rethink, rather than ramming through ever more damaging roads.

“With the world’s attention falling on the UK as it co-hosts COP26, if our transport emissions don’t plummet quickly, our reputation will. Ministers have dithered for far too long and, should quickly concede. Long term ambitions are welcome, but will be undermined unless they take their foot off the gas right now.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“Clearly a lot has changed since 2014 with regard to the need for road transport and attitudes to climate change, but more importantly in this case, with the law. More ambitious climate change targets and more stringent legal requirements in respect of air pollution all mean that transport policy must keep pace and stay within the law.

“In light of that, the decision by Grant Shapps not to make a timely review of the NPS is, in our client’s view, irrational and unlawful.”

David Wolfe QC (Matrix chambers) and Pete Lockley (11KBW chambers) are counsel for the claimants.

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