Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Inspector in his castle & the Inquiry that never was...

More interesting developments at the Public Inquiry. A new document has appeared at the Persona Website (can be found here - opens PDF) in which the Inspector, John Watson, virtually pleads with the Highways Agency & TMBC to withdraw the Draft Orders, which he considers will be the end of the Public Inquiry. What's amazing is that he's given them a 2 week deadline to get back to him. If they delay this long, that means the Inquiry will have rumbled on for 3 weeks after the HA stated their intention to withdraw. It's so much fun spending other people's money.

Watson comes across as so weak and subservient - he's not actually telling them to end the PI, instead he asks them to notify him of what they want to do. This reveals almost all you need to know about Public Inquiries. They are granted by the good grace of the State, and the State decides when they end, and even if it gives the PI a chance to conclude, it can (and frequently does) choose to ignore the 'recommendations'. 

So contrast Watson's pleadings with comments today in a letter to stalwart objector John Hall from the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, Katrine Sporle (which you can read here in a PDF - the redacting and highlighting is ours). It is a response to a Freedom of Information request, but we feel the letter is more interesting than the information they refuse to release. 

Sporle says that the five-times adjourned Inquiry is "exceptional", and she goes further:

Indeed, I am not aware of this having occurred on any other case in recent years.

So much so that they are considering "issuing new guidance" to ensure that "all parties are fully prepared when they come to the Inquiry". She goes on to say that adjournments are necessary to ensure "natural justice" and that the Inspectorate does its best to avoid adjournments. 

Does anyone believe this crap? Individuals have had nearly two years of their lives caught up in this charade, whilst an Agency of the State has sat back and laughed. That the Highways Agency would have suffered any "injustice" had the Inspector been much more firm with them, is a joke. Sporle continues:

We will however be reviewing the handling of the inquiry to see if there are any lessons to be learned from the process and, where appropriate, we will be sharing these with the Highways Agency and others.

Hmmn, yes I imagine that will take all of 5 minutes given that the new Planning Act that we warned about last year is now the law of the land.

On a more confusing note, Sporle says that the HA have "withdrawn from the Inquiry" today. Does she know something that Watson doesn't? Or is she confusing Watson's plea to the HA with the response everyone else wants?

We know of 2 objectors who have been challenging the Inspector over the previous past months as to the legality of the Inquiry. It's noticeable that no criticism has been levelled at Watson by supporters of the Bypass. They have tended to voice their 'frustration' in general terms, not even necessarily attacking the Highways Agency too vociferously for the supposed 'errors' that have produced the delays (although it now seems open season following their withdrawal). 

It's possible to speculate about the reasons why Watson has not come in for criticism. It may because he's seen as impartial. But as far as we're concerned, his handling of this Inquiry has been entirely partial from the start. We've written at length about this, but what concerns us lately is how Watson has essentially pulled up the drawbridge and silenced dissent of his running of the Inquiry, or at least prevented the outside world from seeing that dissent exists. 

John Watson made moves to essentially hide dissenting correspondence from public view. Late last year, a series of conditions were added to the website clarifying what kind of correspondence would be uploaded to it, and we quote:

The scope of the website is as follows:

1 Evidence submitted to the Inquiry that is relevant to the proposals and Orders that are before the Inquiry;
2 Transcripts;
3 Questions of clarification of evidence that are put in writing;
4 Legal submissions that are put to the Inquiry;
5 Documents issued by the Inspector;
6 Inquiry news and programme, and links to related websites; and,
7 It is also useful, so as to keep parties informed during the current adjournment, for the website to carry information from the Promoters regarding their current reviews of their cases (if such information is presented by them in the form of an Inquiry document). 

We can therefore see that, short of a legal challenge to the legitimacy of the Inquiry (which was beyond the means of most Objectors, and seemingly beyond the will if not the means of the larger statutory objectors), dissent as to the process itself was not be allowed to be displayed to the public. Watson created a fortress to buttress the complete sham that is his Public Inquiry. The walls are still standing, and he's still behind them.

The sham will seemingly continue until the Highways Agency decides it has had enough. Did anyone really expect anything else?

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