The Government's proposals in relation to major
infrastructure projects are deeply flawed. The right to challenge
the principle, need and location of a development at a local public
inquiry will be removed. These issues will now be dealt with at
the parliamentary level. Local public inquiries will still take
place but their remit will be restricted to the "precise
alignment and layout of the proposal, land take, mitigation measures,
conditions and legal agreements" (paragraph 21 of the consultation
paper). The inquiry inspector must take as read parliament's decision
and these issues will not be open for debate at the local level.
In short local people would have no opportunity at the inquiry
to discuss issues of any level. In short people would have no
opportunity at the inquiry to discuss issues of any real significance.
The government's assertion that there are new opportunities for
the public to be involved in this process are simply false. The
right to lobby your MP is not the same as being able to give detailed
evidence directly to a planning inspector and to test that evidence
Neither Parliament necessarily best placed to
consider the detailed impact of site specific infrastructure projects.
Parliament must of course be free to set general policy and Friends
of the Earth would welcome coherent government statements on important
issues such as the future of aviation. Deciding the detail of
major infrastructure projects is an entirely different matter.
Government has stated that Parliament will only consider issues
of principle but these issues are intimately related to the nature
of the environmental impacts of an individual Proposal. The consultation
paper has made clear that Environmental Impact Assessment would
be required before Parliament could give development consent.
Parliamentarians would have to consider all such detail before
reaching a conclusion. Most worrying of all, Lord Falconer made
clear in his evidence to the Transport Local Government and Regions
Select Committee that in some cases such decisions would be whipped.
"I would imagine that in some cases it will be whipped business,
yes, but Parliament is still able to scrutinise it" (paragraph
64 of Lord Falconer's uncorrected evidence to the select committee
on 18th December 2001). Such a view cannot give the public confidence
that Parliament will provide an independent and impartial tribunal
at which their concerns can be fairly represented.
Friends of the Earth is concerned that the experience
of Heathrow Terminal 5 has been used to drive changes to the process
of major project decision making which are neither administratively
sound nor fair in terms of public involvement. Friends of the
Earth would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence on the
Terminal 5 inquiry process in order to explore the complex issues
which surrounded its duration. We are particularly concerned to
correct the misrepresentation of the process by government ministers
and explore the following issues:
What were the real causes of "delay"
in the process?
Is it possible to distinguish between
those legitimate "delays" that result from unforeseen
circumstances and the sources of avoidable delay?
It is important to stress that the government
has produced no evidence to suggest that existing rights of local
objectors to discuss the location of a particular development
are a significant factor in the duration of a major infrastructure
project inquiries. Instead issues such as the management of the
inquiry, the lack of coherent national policy frameworks and ministerial
Delay were of more significance. In any event the Terminal 5 inquiry
was so unrepresentative of the generality of Major Infrastructure
inquiries as not to be a sound basis for reform of the system.
In addition to these general concerns Friends
of the Earth has obtained a provisional legal opinion which raises
a number of important reservations on the procedural aspects of
the Government's proposals. This opinion was written for the internal
use of our organisation and we would be grateful if you would
treat this in confidence. The full opinion is attached.