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Campaigners lose High Court bid to thwart government’s £27 billion road scheme

CAMPAIGNERS have lost a High Court bid to thwart the government’s £27 billion road scheme which includes the Stonehenge tunnel. 

The Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) includes 50 road schemes in England, carried out over five years. 

The Transport Action Network (Tan), the not-for-profit organisation that brought the legal challenge, argued that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had ignored the environmental impact of the scheme and acted unlawfully in approving it. 

But in a ruling today, Mr Justice Holgate dismissed Tan’s bid, saying that climate change targets had “plainly been taken into account” when drawing up RIS2.

Tan director Chris Todd said he was shocked by the ruling and intended to appeal. 

“In a month of unprecedented fires and floods, the effect of this judgement is to prioritise the ‘stability and certainty’ of the roads over that of our climate,” he said. 

“The judgement has failed to grapple with the clear requirement created by Parliament that ministers must carefully consider environmental impacts.

“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.”

At an earlier hearing in June, the campaign group contended that the government had failed to consider its commitments to tackle climate change, such as the use of carbon budgets and a legally binding target to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. 

The group also said that the scheme would inevitably have an “undesirable” impact on the climate, but that Mr Shapps had ignored this factor.

The Department for Transport (DfT) claimed that it had “full and proper regard” for the environment when drafting the plan, including consideration of climate change-related impacts on the environment and carbon emissions.

Ruling in favour of the government, the judge said that the law only 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.”

RIS2 includes controversial plans for a tunnel on the A303 near Stonehenge and a new lower Thames crossing linking Kent and Essex.

United Nations agency Unesco recently warned ministers that Stonehenge could be stripped of its world heritage status if the £1.7bn tunnel project went ahead. 

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