Thursday, December 18, 2008

One year on, the Comedy of Errors continues...

That's right, it's 365 days since the Inquiry last sat. And John Watson has chosen this anniversary to seemingly set out his stall for the coming months with the issuing today of a new document (opens PDF).

What's more interesting is that Watson seems to be trying to answer some of the questions we posed back in September. You may remember that we'd pondered the following:

1/ How can a public consultation on new evidence take place in the midst of an Inquiry into the original proposals?

2/ How can any new expression of support or any new objections be 'duly made' when the deadline for the submission of such correspondence passed years ago?

3/ If there is a new consultation and deadline, then where does this leave existing objectors? Are their objections still 'duly made'?

In answer to our question 1, Watson clearly isn't particularly troubled as long as Geoff Who? is similarly unconcerned. In paragraph 3b, he states that:

"If any new Orders, Notices of Intention or similar are promoted, then there should be evidence that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the Inquiry should consider them, that the necessary statutory processes have been followed, and that all objections and representations received during the appropriate period are before the Inquiry"

But Watson seems to be making it pretty clear that anything new must go through the usual rigmarole, including any new Environmental Statement (para 4b). So that also seems to imply an answer to our question 2 - new evidence means new rigmarole, if not new Inquiry (as far as he's concerned). And Watson wants to be clear - in paragraph 3d, he asks for a list of all previously submitted evidence, with an indication of whether each item should remain or be withdrawn. One wonders what percentage of evidence will be withdrawn - and if it is above a certain percentage, how loudly will the official opposition call for the Inquiry to end?

But there also seems to be implications for our third question in there. How much is new and how much is revised will surely be a hot topic - because if it is substantially new, then all the existing objections will be invalid. 

In these circumstances, how can this Inquiry continue?

We'll leave that one hanging there ... in the meantime, it gets better. In paragraph 3f, Watson seeks a written undertaking from the Highways Agency that "(it) will not alter the evidence it has submitted". Or else?, you might be asking. Presumably, he'll then get very cross and give them another chance, as has been his usual pattern of behaviour.

What an interesting few months we had ahead of us then. Will the Highways Agency pay any attention to this apparently newly assertive Inspector? Has he subtly made it very difficult for them to move? And if they disobey, will he do the decent thing?

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