This is entry number 255, published on 28 June 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today’s entry reports on the start of the first compulsory acquisition hearing to take place under the Planning Act regime.
The first application for a nationally significant infrastructure project is trundling its way through the six-month period for examination by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), clocking up a series of firsts as it goes. The latest 'first' is to hold a hearing into the compulsory acquisition of land for the project.
The IPC is holding a series of three types of hearing into the first application it accepted, for an energy from waste project at Rookery South near Bedford, promoted by Covanta Energy. Yesterday was the first day of a potential five-day 'compulsory acquisition' hearing, one of the three types, where those whose land is proposed to be compulsorily acquired can argue their cases that no, or less, or different, land should be acquired.
The first of the other two types of hearing is an 'issue specific' hearing - on a particular issue at the discretion of the IPC - which has now finished after five sitting days. The other is an 'open floor' hearing - a general chance to put any remaining points - which is taking place next week.
I was unable to attend yesterday's hearing, but one of my colleagues did so, and so I pass on his comments on the hearing. The venue was the Forest Centre near Bedford, which is only being used for this hearing. It was pleasant and near the proposed project site but rather difficult to reach by public transport. History does not record the price of a cup of coffee (see blog entries passim), but there was a cafeteria open to the public that could be used.
The proceedings were the nearest that the IPC will get to a traditional public inquiry, given that they consisted of barristers cross-examining witnesses, although the day was less structured than would have been the case with a public inquiry. That did not matter in this case, since there were only three parties present (Covanta, the two local authorities jointly represented and the Waste Recycling Group), but for a larger project a timetable - or even a programme officer - might be useful.
Covanta's barrister made a 35-minute opening statement, and then Emrys Parry, one of the panel of three commissioners, asked representatives of the promoter 25 minutes of detailed questions, covering issues such as Crown land, special category land and local authority land.
Covanta's main witness, from environmental consultants ERM, was then cross-examined by WRG. The commissioners did not interrupt this. My colleague left at the lunch break, but the ensuing order of play was to be re-examination of the Covanta witness, cross-examination by Covanta of other parties' witnesses, re-examination of them and then closing submissions. There was to be no 'examination in chief' (where a party's barrister asks questions of their own witnesses first).
Although the Planning Act regime discourages cross-examination, indeed it discourages any sort of oral examination, this was the most likely situation in which it would be allowed, given the human rights impliations of having land taken compulsorily.
The hearing was timetabled to continue all week but is likely to take up rather less time than it was allocated.