Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hostages to fortune

Day 15 of the Public Inquiry (PI) - amazing isn't it? it's been running for more than 6 months, yet it's only just managed to have a fortnight of 'sitting days'.

The Highways Agency have managed to go one better than at the last hearing on November 6th. For now, they have managed to get the PI postponed indefinitely.

Stephen Greenhalgh (for the Highways Agency) was unable to say when their evidence would be sufficiently in order to present to the PI, but promised to return 'after Easter' to give an update. The Inspector, John Watson, wanted him to be more specific:

JW - There is an awful lot of time, I hope, after Easter 2008. How long after Easter 2008 do you have in mind?

SG - I don't know at this stage, sir.

For once, the Peak District National Park looked like they had some bite. Their Barrister, Mr Cannock, set out a perfectly reasonable possible order of events:
  • The Highways Agency withdraw the Line Orders
  • They produce new traffic forecasts
  • They introduce a consultation on a Peak Park-wide HGV ban and how route restraints measures will be secured
  • If the bypass still remains the optimum solution, their new evidence can be produced
These are serious points. Anti-bypass campaigners have always asked that a HGV ban be trialled, then that part of the argument can be dealt with. The promoters have always said 'it won't work', but there's no harm in trying, and it could have been running in the interim, during all this wasted time. Most reasonable people would surely agree.

Mr Cannock stressed that, as things stand at present, there is no valid evidence in support of the road proposal from either the Highways Agency or TMBC that is actually in existence. This left any future scheme approved by the Secretary of State under a real risk of a future legal challenge.

John Watson seemed to echo the latter point when he said even if he agreed that the proposals should go forward, he would have to explain to the Secretary of State why he had confidence in the 5th version of the HA's proposals (as things stand currently - it could be 6th soon!).

Predictably, Charles Calvert announced that the HA had no intention of withdrawing. So the show goes on.

John Watson insists that he is bound by the procedures - his beloved 'rules' that he referred to last time. He increasingly comes across as someone who wishes he could be put out of his misery. In our view - and probably his - the PI is being held hostage by the Highways Agency: they know that the rules mean this charade can go on and on.

It's in these circumstances that John Watson has decided to adjourn indefinitely or an 'unspecified date' as he put it. And to cap it all, objectors will only have 3 weeks notice of any future hearing when the HA has got it's act together.

So that's all for 2007. Who knows when we will meet again...

(Today's transcript can be read here - opens PDF)

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