The Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU
24 September 2006
Planning Inquiry Procedures
I am taking the unusual step of contacting you before you receive the report from your inspector later in the autumn because the two points I want to raise concern the planning inquiry process itself rather then the specifics of this inquiry. I am writing now as I want my comments about procedure to be separate from any view I might want to express when the report is published in due course.
My first point is about legal representation. An inquiry relies upon our confrontational legal process to test the evidence presented. So it needs both sides having the resources to examine any evidence presented. Major policy issues were being tested and it is too much to expect private citizens to undertake this task. This inquiry was unusual because the City of York Council opted to support the two applications that were the subject of this inquiry so there were very limited resources available to the objectors.
The quasi-legal procedures used at public inquiries favour those with legal representatives. Two examples of how these rules disadvantage unrepresented members of the public are:
Your inspector, Mr David Cullingford, coped with this unbalanced situation and no criticism of him is intended or implied by this letter. I did raise this issue with him in writing before the inquiry and once again on the opening day. However, he had to apply the quasi-judicial rules and these procedures gravely disadvantaged those opposing the developments if they do not have counsel.
The fiction that the lawyers are there to assist the Court is sustainable only when both side enjoy such assistance. When one side exercises a right to interrupt which is denied to the other side, the process become intrinsically unfair. I felt myself to be a particular victim of this because the tactic of one developer was to destroy my credibility as a witness since they were not willing to provide the archaeological evidence I had requested. I was almost powerless to prevent or redress these attacks given the procedures adopted.
My second comment concerns what happens next. In several discussions with the agents for one developer, they made it clear that they would expect to return with a modified scheme even if this application is not permitted now. I would suggest this is bad news for the environment and archaeology. Again, I see this as a problem that applies to many sites although I will use this site as an example.
In September 1066 a battle of the size and scale of the clash a few weeks later near Hastings might have taken place, all parties to this inquiry agree, along the line of the proposed access road. This is a valuable archaeological and ecological environment and we must hope that we have persuaded the inspector of this. However, this will not be enough to save this small part of the site since the developers still exercise a legal covenant over the land which would allow them to prevent any beneficial works.
I would therefore plead that any decisions by yourself should always be expressed in a way that will release certain critical parts of the site from any possible planning blight. This would allow a long-term programme to be prepared for the preservation of special environments involved in planning inquiries. Without a clear statement excluding such areas from development, there is a danger that the deterioration which will follow from continued neglect will be used to strengthen the case for a future application.
For clarity, could I add that this was a combined inquiry and my remarks are solely related to the Germany Beck development promoted by Persimmon Homes and not to the housing scheme promoted by the Joseph Rowntree Trust. I feel it is inappropriate to address a copy of this to the inspectorate because in this letter, I am trying to raise issues about the inquiry process itself, and not about this specific inquiry. It should not be interpreted as a complaint about this inquiry. I am asking questions about the justice of the current planning inquiry rules and if they permit similar planning inquiries to fulfil their purpose.
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