HS2 legal bill to hit £5m as Supreme Court battle looms

Total legal costs for the first phase of HS2, the planned high-speed railway, are expected to hit £5m with £400,000 already spent on battles in the High Court and Court of Appeal (CoA).

The news of the swelling legal costs within the £50bn project comes just weeks before the government goes to the Supreme Court on October 15. The £5m bill includes fees for planning, regulatory and environmental advice as well as litigation.

Landmark Chambers is set to resume its leading role in the showdown at the Supreme Court, with chambers providing counsel for both sides of the dispute.

Tim Mould QC will lead James Maurici QC, Jaqueline Leane and Richard Turney for the Department of Transport, which is once again trying to strike down the challenge. 

The top-level challenge is being brought by Buckinghamshire County Council, the Heathrow Hub and campaign group HS2 Action Alliance. All three have attempted to stop the progress of the project at the High Court (15 March 2013) and CoA (24 July 2013).

Harrison Grant Solicitors partner Kate Harrison has instructed Landmark Chambers’ Nathalie Lieven QC and Monckton Chambers’ Kassie Smith QC for Buckinghamshire County Council.

Landmark has also picked up lead mandates for Heathrow Hub and the HS2 Action Alliance, with Charles Banner and David Elvin QC instructed respectively.

The case is set to be heard on 15 October with Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger leading a panel of five justice presiding over the dispute.

Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Richards dismissed three grounds of appeal and refused permission to appeal on other grounds but Lord Justice Sullivan said further environmental reviews were required and gave HS2 Action Alliance leave to appeal on those points. Since then the two other appellants have also been given leave to appeal.

A DfT spokesman said: “The department won nine out of 10 challenges in the High Court and all seven appeals to the court of appeal. We will be seeking to reclaim costs from the relevant parties for those claims. Parliament is the right place to debate the merits of HS2, not the law courts and we are working hard to deposit the hybrid bill by the end of the year. The vast majority of the legal budget is for professional legal services to ensure that we meet the requirements of the hybrid bill process. The budget for these activities has not been affected by the judicial reviews.”

While the dispute is ongoing the DfT has brought in a raft of advisors to help get the project off the ground. The £5m legal budget has been set aside for phase one of the scheme, which will run from 2017 to 2025.

39 Essex Street silk James Strachan QC is advising on planning and hybrid build issues relating to the project, while also being advised by a Parliamentary Agent team of Winckworth Sherwood. Eversheds lawyers led by lead partner Paul Irving and partner Stephen Collings are providing non-contentious planning advice to the DfT.

Controversy has surrounded the scheme from the get-go. Yesterday Sir David Higgins, the new boss of HS2, conded that costs related to the project could rise again before engineers finalise its design.

He said: “We’re working within a robust budget that I believe, through more rigorous planning and value engineering can be reduced. Doing nothing is not an option, today’s railways are bursting at the seams and are getting harder and harder to maintain – unsurprising considering its age. A new line is the only capacity game changer in town.”