A protest group has been ordered to pay the legal costs of its WA Supreme Court action against the federal and state-funded Roe 8 highway extension in Perth’s south.
Save Beeliar Wetlands last year successfully appealed the Environmental Protection Authority approval for the road, which is part of the $1.9 billion Perth Freight Link, with Chief Justice Wayne Martin saying the EPA “took no account of its own published policies” when it gave the green light and had been legally obliged to.
But the judgment was overturned after the state appealed, successfully arguing the watchdog’s policies were mere guidelines.
The group was ordered in the WA Court of Appeal on Tuesday to pay costs for the original legal action and subsequent challenge, but is expected to apply for a stay order while it seeks to have its case heard in the High Court.
Justice Carmel McLure said public interest in the case was high, but the focus of the challenge was on process and procedural errors, and at best, the EPA would be required to reconsider the proposal.
“That relief would have no direct operative or practical effect on either respondent,” she said.
The group remains adamant it will fight on in the nation’s highest court and is cashed up, thanks to $50,000 raised via crowd-funding, and the City of Cockburn has pledged to contribute a further $25,000 if the matter proceeds to a full hearing.
When traditional owner Corina Abraham lost her Supreme Court challenge against Aboriginal heritage approval for Roe 8 in August, the state did not pursue legal costs.
The Barnett government has meanwhile signed construction contracts for Roe 8 and plans to start work by year end.
Premier Colin Barnett, who insists the 5km extension will reduce congestion, and improve road safety and freight efficiency, said last month he believed it was unlikely Save Beeliar Wetlands would secure a High Court hearing.
That was because there was “no dispute” about environmental standards, Mr Barnett said, but the group had managed to delay the project.
The initial court loss also prompted the state government to order an independent “health check” of the EPA, with the review team concluding its policies and procedures were too complicated, and the policy framework should be improved.
The state opposition has vowed to axe the Perth Freight Link if it wins the March election, but has stopped short of saying it will tear up contracts.
Meanwhile, concern about the project is among reasons several local councils have expressed reservations about the state government’s Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million plan, which maps out transport needs as the population grows in coming decades.