High Court Clarifies Judicial Review Principles in A57 Link Roads Scheme Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2917 (Admin)
Judgment on


The High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division Administrative Court’s ruling in the case of Peak District and South Yorkshire Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England v Secretary of State for Transport ([2023] EWHC 2917 (Admin)) provides an illustration of judicial review principles pertaining to nationally significant infrastructure projects, environmental impact assessments, and Green Belt policies. The case concerned a challenge to the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to grant development consent for the A57 Link Roads Scheme.

Key Facts

The A57 Link Roads Scheme proposed the construction of new link roads through the Green Belt to improve connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield. The Peak District and South Yorkshire Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) argued that the Secretary of State had failed to comply with the necessary regulations by not providing a reasoned conclusion on the significant effects of the scheme and by not personally assessing credible alternatives that could result in less harm to the Green Belt.

The legal principles addressed in this case include:

  1. Very Special Circumstances in Green Belt Policy: Under Green Belt policy, as reflected in the National Policy Statement on National Networks (NPS) (paragraphs 5.164 and 5.178), inappropriate development is not approved unless “very special circumstances” justify it. A proposal must demonstrate that the potential benefits clearly outweigh any harm to the Green Belt.

  2. National Policy Statement Compliance: For Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), the Secretary of State is bound to decide the application in accordance with the applicable National Policy Statement, here the NPS on National Networks, unless specific exceptions apply.

  3. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations: Under the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017, an Environmental Statement must be included in the application for development consent, detailing the likely significant effects of the proposed development on the environment and describing reasonable alternatives studied.

  4. Consideration of Alternatives: Per the NPS, applicants must provide an outline of main alternatives studied and reasons for their choice, considering environmental impacts. If a full options appraisal was conducted as part of inclusion in Roads Investment Strategies (RIS), the examining authority need not reconsider the options appraisal but must be satisfied it has been undertaken.

  5. Mandatory Material Considerations: It’s lawfully required for a decision-maker to take into account considerations that are either explicitly or implicitly identified as mandatory by legislation or policy, or if a consideration is so obviously material to the decision that failing to address it would be irrational.

  6. Common Law Principles on Alternatives: Planning objections on a particular site and significant adverse effects by the proposed development may necessitate consideration of viable alternatives. This principle applies more strongly to infrastructure projects of national importance.

The court applied these principles to analyze the Secretary of State’s decision-making process and the approach taken to the CPRE’s challenge.


The High Court concluded:

  1. The alternatives proposed by CPRE and Mr. Bagshaw, while taken into account, were not demonstrated to be mandatory material considerations under the circumstances of the case.

  2. The Secretary of State did not err in the decision-making process by relying on National Highways’ options appraisal. The alternatives, having been considered and rejected as credible or viable by National Highways, were not assessed anew by the Secretary of State, which was deemed lawful.

  3. The Panel took the approach of planning judgment in considering alternatives and the Secretary of State’s agreement with this approach showed no error of law.

Permission was granted for CPRE’s alternative case, but the claim ultimately failed.


The court’s decision in the case reaffirms the scope of judicial review in the context of planning decisions for nationally significant infrastructure developments. The judgment illuminates the key intersections between environmental impact considerations, policy adherence, and the appropriate weighing of alternative proposals within the planning process. Moreover, the legal discourse on what constitutes a mandatory material consideration and how alternatives within the same application site are to be assessed adds clarity to this area of law. The outcome further solidifies the principle that the existence of alternative proposals within the planning process is a matter for the decision-maker’s planning judgment and is not necessarily a ground for legal challenge unless it forms a mandatory consideration by statute or clear policy directive.