Law Lords reject latest appeal over £20m bus project scheme

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A LEGAL bid to scupper a controversial £20m bus scheme has been thrown out by the highest court in the land,

Law Lords ruled yesterday that Hampshire County Council was right to grant planning permission for the Bus Rapid Transport Scheme (BRT) which will run between Fareham and Gosport.

Their judgement comes after a hearing in November last year at which campaigner Viv Morge argued that work on the scheme should stop because she believed it was harming endangered species, particularly bats, which live along the old railway tracks that are part of the route.

Ms Morge, of Wych Lane, Gosport, had claimed that the council did not take into account European directives which would ban ‘deliberate disturbance’ to protected species living along the route.

The law lords dismissed her appeal by four votes to one.

Cllr Mel Kendal, in charge of transport matters for the county, said: ‘We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court which confirms that the county council followed correct planning procedures.

‘But more to the point, what I am really pleased about it is that we can now press ahead and complete this scheme to bring back a disused public transport route into modern use. The BRT route will bring benefits to a great many people in the future, providing public transport for employment and education travel for example, which is vital in these difficult economic times.’

Ms Morge, who claimed legal aid to launch the appeal, was unavilable for comment.

Her solicitor, Graeme Swain, of Swain and Co, in Havant, said he was disappointed with the verdict but that the ruling would actually help protected species in the future. During the hearing law lords’ discussed how the word ‘disturbance’ in the directive should be interpreted. They have now ruled that for future appeals the disturbance could mean something which directly affects habitat, but could also refer to something which has an indirect impact on the protected species, such as a building works that affected migration patterns.

Mr Swain added: ‘Whilst the appeal brought by Ms Morge was unsuccessful, the law has now been strengthened with the effect that the environment, and in particular protected species, will now enjoy a greater level of protection than was previously the case.’ Swains is now considering an application to the European Commission to investigate whether the law relating to habitats is being applied correctly by the UK.