Aquind hearing: a five-year fight sees latest battle in the Royal Courts of Justice

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FACING hundreds of pages of documentation on Aquind’s five-year fight to dig up vast swathes of Portsmouth, the judge’s expression suggested someone finding themselves all at sea.

How had a decision that will affect thousands of Portsmouth residents ended up in court in the country’s capital?

Aquind had been told its plans for the city were a no-go by then business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng last year, but the firm had dispatched its lawyers to overturn the verdict during a judicial review.

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Aquind may promote itself as using cutting-edge technology, but the future of the billion-pound project found itself contested by men in horsehair wigs in the gothic Royal Courts of Justice.

The Royal Courts of Justice, in The Strand, London.The Royal Courts of Justice, in The Strand, London.
The Royal Courts of Justice, in The Strand, London.
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Scouring the thick binders in front of her, Mrs Justice Lieven often appeared keen to arrive at the heart of the issue.

Holding her glasses in one hand and her head in the other, she enquired of Aquind’s barrister if he could ‘pick up the pace’ during the hearing’s first day.

But no matter the speed of the narrative, the judge was left ‘slightly baffled’ at several points of Aquind’s argument.

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The Secretary of State had acted ‘unlawfully’, the argument appeared to run, as he had - allegedly - mistakenly believed that an alternative route was feasible.

Had he? Was the route feasible? Under what definition of feasibility?

In search of answers, the barristers directed the judge to dive deep into the dense bundle of documents piled around her, time and time again.

Meanwhile sitting in the packed public gallery among more than 20 attendees, Stop Aquind activists sought to convey their impressions of the unfolding arguments that could change their lives.

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Riveting? Illuminating? Less so – dry and dense was the impression left by the barristers’ references to subsection after subsection after subsection.

But everyone in the court appeared laser focused on the proceedings, understanding the impact should Aquind win the fight.

Whether it will succeed – and then most likely face another storm of public protesting and campaigning –all depends on the verdict from the judge.

She has said she hopes to have an answer before Christmas, which is set to be a season of extra celebration - or commiseration – for many across the city.