The Stonehenge Farm Quarry Application

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adjourned until 13 April 2009

The Witney Gazette carried the story, and also the Oxford Mail. Meridian ITV South included it in their news bulletin. The Public Inquiry turns out to be an an open and shut-up-shop-for-a-while kind of case. Here's our exclusive photo:

The left have the right on their side, the Inspector sits all alone

How did it happen?

OUTRAGE long ago told Hanson Aggregates, the Environment Agency and OCC that Hanson's flood modeling work and Flood Risk Assessment for the Stonehenge Farm application was inadequate. Nonsense, they all said, no extra work is required.

The application was refused last November. Hanson was in effect given an extra month in which to prepare their appeal, as OCC took more than a month to issue their formal refusal. Eventually Hanson appealed, in July 2009, at the last possible moment. At that point they chose to announce that they would do the modeling work that OUTRAGE and the Residents of Moreton had asked for, and that they had said was not needed.

Hanson asked if the Public Inquiry could be heard in February 2010 but the Planning Inspectorate said they had already had enough time. A date was set for the Public Inquiry, and Hanson said that they would nonetheless try to do the additional work. Results began to appear. By creating facts on the ground, Hanson made sure that there was something the Inspector could not ignore.

By Monday when both OCC and Hanson had formally asked for an adjournment, it was pretty clear how Tuesday would go. OUTRAGE was all fired up and ready to roll, just in case the Inspector decided to postpone only the question of flood risk. But his view was that solutions to flood risk (if any) might rebound on other questions already examined.

One oddity was that despite the Inspector's request in a Procedural Note that OCC and Hanson should agree and provide a set of Core Documents (the planning and policy documents that each side refers to), they had simply ignored his request.

What does it mean?

The adjournment of the Public Inquiry was extremely frustrating for all of us, but we need to put it in perspective.
  • It does not affect the strength of OUTRAGE's case against Hanson's appeal, or the Inspector's obligation to hear it when the time comes.
  • In allowing Hanson's and OCC's requests for an adjournment, the Inspector was not favouring Hanson. It may have felt like that, but in fact he was simply making sure that the Inquiry had the benefit of the best available evidence - as he is required to do by law.
  • If he had not adjourned, he would have laid himself open to judicial review. Whatever we (and he) may think of Hanson's antics in submitting their new evidence so late in the day, he was pretty much obliged to act as he did.
Our legal representative, Mr Hopkins, knew that. He has appeared at enough public inquiries to know the score. In fact, the day before the inquiry, when both the main parties emailed the Inspector asking for an adjournment, Mr Hopkins warned us that the Inspector wouldn't have much choice in the matter.

Yesterday's proceedings were shocking to us, but all too familiar to the legal and planning professionals present. Julie Hankey spoke to the Inspector after the meeting on Tuesday and he confirmed that there was no significance in the adjournment beyond the fact that he needed to have all the flooding evidence before him.

Table-thumping wouldn't have altered the outcome, but these twists and turns have left us more determined than ever. Our case will be heard, and the delay gives us time to sharpen its points.