Thank you for your letter about the delay to Portishead railway. Like you, I am extremely disappointed by this course of events.
Since the explanation given in the written ministerial statement about “environmental reasons” for the delay was very vague, I asked for further ministerial information.
It appears that there is no specific reason for the delay on environmental grounds and, indeed, it would be possible to go ahead with the DCO (development consent order) immediately except for one potentially serious factor.
Government advisers believe that there is a strong chance that environmental activist groups might seek a judicial review over the whole project on “environmental “grounds. While this may seem absurd given the clear benefits that the railway would bring, we have seen from recent events with groups like Extension Rebellion and Insulate Britain that they are far from rational in their decision taking. It is entirely possible that they would object to any new transport project.
The six-month delay that has been announced is to allow for a full environmental impact to be undertaken to the extent that the government believes it would be able to resist any calls for a judicial review.
It is, perhaps, worth explaining exactly what a judicial review could mean in terms of time delay.
The time between filing a judicial review application and getting a decision from the court on permission is about 3 to 5 months. If permission is granted and the government decides to defend the claim (as they obviously would in this instance) then the full hearing generally take as somewhere between 9 to 15 months.
If this were to happen, the opening of the railway could be sent back for a considerable length of time.
My own opinion is that it is becoming too easy for pressure groups to challenge every decision by a democratically elected government in the courts and I expect legislation to be brought forward to deal with this issue shortly.
Meantime, the current six-month delay, while unwelcome, looks like the least unacceptable way to proceed with the minimal chance of substantial delay to the opening of the Portishead line that we all want to see.