TRANSPORT, HIGHWAY & AIRPORT INQUIRIES _ ARE WE BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE?

Introduced by Prof. Stephen Crow CB, Cardiff University, ex-Chief Planning Inspector on 12 October 1999

As `inquisitions', inquiries have their root in the 9th and 10th centuries; they are older than Courts of Law, and are administrative, not legal proceedings. The modern form evolved at the time of the Enclosure Acts in the early 19th century, when one man assembled the proofs of facts concerning a dispute and reported to Parliament or a Government department. The 1909 Planning Act established the adversarial format. Today, town and country planning appeals and inquiries are the most numerous, although public enquiries are set up for a variety of purposes.

Appeals use one of three procedures: Written representations, hearings or local inquiries. The key document to study if involved in an appeal is the DOE Circular 15/96 Planning Appeal Procedures. The procedure described in it is typical of that used at most inquiries. There are Rules covering pre- and post-inquiry procedures, who may "appear" and procedure during the inquiry. Their object is that evidence of one side should not come as a surprise to the other.

Highway inquiries hear objections from `statutory' objectors (affected by the proposed route) and others. The Franks report of 1957

required inspectors, who are now appointed by the Lord Chancellor not the Government department involved as they previously were, to observe the three principles of Openness, Fairness and Impartiality.

Roads have always been authorised by statutory order, but until recently canals, railways and tramways had to get a Private Bill passed by Parliament. This resulted in the Parliamentary Committee becoming a (tedious) public inquiry. Also there seemed no good reason why a long motorway could be built by one procedure but not even a short railway. The outcome was the Transport & Works Act 1992, a hybrid between the two procedures. The Secretary of State can make an order but it requires an affirmative resolution of each house of Parliament before it comes into effect. The promoter pays a substantial fee. For `nationally significant' schemes the houses of Parliament debate the draft order. Planning permission still has to be obtained from the local authority, who consider the environmental impact.

Most inquiries last less than a week and less than 10% of planning appeals, for example, result in an inquiry; but some go on for years _ Stansted airport 258 sitting days; Sizewell B nuclear power station, 340; Heathrow Terminal Five, 524 (over 4 years). Partly, this is caused by the inquiry including many related proposals: Heathrow T5 building needed only normal planning permission but the access to it involved 21 planning applications, 6 highway orders, 2 TWA applications, 5 compulsory purchase orders.....etc., and was at the expense of the taxpayer, except for the TWA applications.

A recent Consultation Paper (May 1999) Streamlining the processing of major projects through the planning process makes suggestions, including preventing undue prolixity and repetition, but `hanging all the lawyers' may not be fair to both sides. Informal hearings and public examinations, provide alternative methods, which are quicker and cheaper but not necessarily fair and thorough. The speaker suggested in this consultation the adoption of a two-stage procedure: adoption of the policy by Parliament followed by an inquiry limited to `statutory' objectors.

He provided copies to the audience of his paper The Authorisation of Major Projects _ can we improve on the Public Inquiry? which included a supplement Advocacy and Evidence giving advice on `appearing' at an inquiry.

The discussion raised various points:

The imbalance between the resources of Government departments and objectors, who may be small local authorities or private persons.

The limitation on discussing the strategic implications of a proposal, e.g. the need for the development, safety aspects or whether the road is part of a Euro-route (such information may only be obtained in Brussels, although filed in London but not made available by the Government department).

The cost to objectors of a long inquiry where the applicant is a major company, e.g. BAA.

Don Lovell