Metro work expansion illegal, law expert warns

“Significant project change” requires new environmental assessment and public hearings, environmental professor says

The city’s consideration of the application by Metroselskabet, the company behind Copenhagen’s Metro, to expand its working hours as a cost-cutting measure is a violation of several laws and conventions, according to Peter Pagh, a professor in environmental law at the University of Copenhagen.

"This is a significant project change and requires a new environmental assessment and new public hearings,” Pagh told Politiken newspaper. "If the council accepts it, they will violate the EIA ordinance, two EU directives, the Aarhus Convention and several judgments by the European Council for Human Rights,” he said.

The company is trying to significantly expand its working hours to avoid more delays and cost overruns of nearly two billion kroner.

Pagh said that it is illegal for the company to extend those hours – and for the city to give its permission – without a prior environmental assessment and public hearings.

Pagh said that the extended working hours differ materially from the existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which was completed in 2008 and was subject to public hearings about how the construction would affect the environment, including the impact on neighbourhoods around construction sites.

Danish and European law require that a new EIA be completed if there are significant changes to a project. As the cost of the project continues to climb, the Copenhagen and Frederiksberg councils and the Transport Ministry said that work could continue around the clock at four sites. Metroselskabet would now instead like to be allowed to work around the clock at three sites, while instead being allowed to work late into the evening at 16 other sites.

Residents living close to the station being built near Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken church have long contended that the continuous work threatens their quality of life and say they are ready to take the city to court.

"We are willing to do what has to be done,” Maya Glem, the head of a local residents' association, told Politiken. “We expect the city to follow the law and not focus on its own interests.”

Nørrebroparken residents are already living with noisy daytime work via a loophole in the project’s finance agreement, which Pagh says is illegal.

A report from the environmental administration in March stated that "the requested extension of working time for the excavation phase is not provided for in the EIA report for the City Ring”.

The Transport Ministry, the city's public works department and the city's finance administration have all argued that the work falls within the scope the existing EIA report.

The Copenhagen and Frederiksberg councils and the state issued a joint statement maintaining that Metroselskabet’s application remains within the EIA.

"It is estimated that construction activities can be realised in the framework of the existing EIA report. The total volume of loud work will not increase and will take less time,” read the report.

Pagh said that Miljøklagenævnet, the environmental appeals board, has previously rejected similar arguments as being contrary to the Environmental Protection Act.