Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda



  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 in cross-examination.

  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.

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