The High Court has opened the way for a new Oxford-Bicester railway line which will pass within about a kilometre of the Oxford Meadows special conservation area. A campaigner’s plea that an insufficiently precautionary approach had been taken to the protection of the meadows’ habitats and species was rejected.
Local objector, Sean Feeney, had challenged a railway improvement order approved by the Secretary of State for Transport on the basis that the requirement to carry out appropriate assessments under the Habitats Directive and Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations had not been complied with.
Although the Chiltern Railway Company Limited insisted that there was no risk of the meadows being polluted with oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and Natural England agreed that such a threat was unlikely to materialise, Mr Feeney argued that the obligation to carry out assessments was mandatory if there was any risk at all to the meadows.
However, in dismissing his judicial review challenge, the court emphasised that the order had been made following an in-depth public inquiry and, at Natural England’s insistence, was subject to a condition that further air quality surveys be carried out before work on the development could commence, followed by implementation of any mitigation measures considered necessary.
Mr Feeney argued that that condition would be ineffective. However, the court noted that, if the meadows showed signs of pollution, a range of ‘known techniques’ could be used to eliminate any harm to them and that Natural England had comprehensive powers under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to enforce any mitigation measures required.