Tuesday, September 02, 2008

John Watson - for how much longer can the "rules cope"?

We note that the Glossop Chronicle had another article last week about the latest delays to the Public Inquiry (PI), and that it seems to reveal further slippage on the whole process. We're not sure why the Chronicle is so privileged, but the information has yet to appear elsewhere. Perhaps the Highways Agency (HA) are keen to spin the news that we gave the exclusive for the other week? Indeed, according to the sitemeter, Carillion have been spending a lot of time on the blog of late.

Careful readers of the HA's latest submission to the PI will have noticed that they promised to publish a 'consultation strategy' this month - September 2008 (para 5). And whilst no date for the new Exhibitions was mentioned, the indication was that the revised Environmental Statement and other important documents would be submitted to the PI by May 2009. On the surface, it looked like the exhibitions would take place between this September and next May.

But the Chronicle is now saying that the exhibitions will not take place until June 2009. And a new article in Saturday's Manchester Evening News makes it clear that 'Public Consultation' will follow, making this PI the longest running Road Public Inquiry on record.

'Public Consultation' implies a long period of time - possibly several weeks. It also implies that the public will be consulted, and hence that responses will be invited, as is usually the case.

But what the HA actually want - and what the Inspector John Watson seems to want to give them - is to hold a public consultation on effectively brand new information (let's dispense with this 'revised evidence' crap!) whilst also holding a Public Inquiry simultaneously.

Surely 'never the twain shall meet'? How can the public respond to a consultation whilst a PI is underway into the 'same' (actually anything but) proposals? The Planning Inspectorate's own guidance notes make it clear (para 7.5 onwards) that these would not be 'duly made' supports or objections, since the deadline for responses has already been made. So how will they be treated?

If it is the case that the Highways Agency are making a new consultation, and that there will therefore be a deadline for responses, where does that leave the existing objectors? Do they have to object all over again, or do their existing objections - made against wholly different evidence - still stand ('duly made')? Perhaps, as we've seen before with John Watson, he will state that the 'rules can cope' with such a dog's breakfast?

This increasingly intriguing muddle of a farce is surely breaking entirely new ground now. But we'd like to know exactly what kind of rules or guidance permit John Watson to let the PI continue when the Highways Agency have effectively re-written their entire case, and further, allow the HA to re-consult on a new road scheme whilst keeping the PI into the old one open!

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I'd be very interested to know whether we would be allowed to either enter new alternatives or revise alternatives already submitted - after all, if the HA are changing their case surely others should be at least allowed to correct 'errors' that arose between alternatives being agreed and being published....