Planning Inspectorate Journal - Heathrow Terminal Five article
The major public inquiry into the proposed fifth terminal at Heathrow Airport finally closed on 17 March 1999. It had sat for 525 days spanning 3 years and 10 months after opening on 16 May 1995. It became Britain's longest running planning inquiry in November 1997 when it exceeded the 340 days of the previous longest inquiry into the Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station.
This article offers an explanation of how a planning inquiry on this scale was set up and administered and why it took so long. It also offers some possible lessons and best practice for future major public inquiries. It is not intended to offer any comments on the merits or otherwise of the Terminal 5 proposal.
As Inquiry Secretary, I was responsible from September 1993 for much of the preparatory work in setting up the inquiry and then running the Secretariat handling the programming and administration of the inquiry itself. I had no previous experience of inquiry administration prior to taking the job, apart from a brief attendance at some local public inquiries in a private capacity. An inquiry Secretariat had been set up, however, in advance of BAA's application being received and handled much of the initial procedural work following call-in.
The inquiry is considering a total of nearly 40 separate applications, Orders and appeals under the Planning, Highways, Civil Aviation and Transport and Works Acts.
General view of T5 inquiry hall. Counsel for DETR/Highways Agency in foreground. Counsel for BAA on their right. Counsel for local authority opposition opposite them across the room.
An outline planning application for Terminal 5 was submitted by BAA plc and Heathrow Airport Ltd on 17 February 1993. It was called in for public inquiry by the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Transport in March 1993 on the grounds that it was likely to be of more than regional importance and give rise to significant controversy. The application site covers an area of 251 hectares at the western edge of Heathrow Airport between the two main runways. Most of the site is currently occupied by the Perry Oaks Sewage Works, a facility owned and operated by Thames Water Utilities.
BAA have submitted a further 20 planning applications related to Terminal 5 which are being considered concurrently with the main application. They include schemes to relocate the Perry Oaks Sewage Works to Iver South in Buckinghamshire, to divert two rivers in a single channel around the edge of the site, and proposals for the temporary use of land during construction of the terminal.
Other applications being considered include Highway Orders for a spur road to connect Terminal 5 to a widened M25 and improvements to the M4, and Transport and Works Act Orders to extend the Heathrow Express railway and Piccadilly Underground lines to Terminal 5. A number of Compulsory Purchase Orders, and Orders under section 44 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, are also being considered.
As a major infrastructure project of national importance it was clear from the outset that the Code of Practice for major inquiries should apply to Terminal 5. This would allow the large number of interested parties expected to be handled effectively and enable the Inspector to structure the inquiry so that the proceedings ran smoothly and efficiently.
Over 5,000 individuals and organisations formerly registered under the major inquiry procedures following call-in. Over 70 organisations and individuals sought the status of major parties under Part 1 of the register, another 3,000 or so individuals registered to give oral evidence under Part 2, and a further 2,000 to submit written representations under Part 3. An inquiry library was established containing the applications, outline statements of case and all representations received.
Following the appointment of the Inspector Roy Vandermeer QC in March 1994 a series of five pre-inquiry meetings was held between May 1994 and April 1995. These proved essential in identifying the 30 or so major parties who were to play an active part in the proceedings, identifying the main issues and how they would be handled, and agreeing ground rules for the day to day conduct of the inquiry and formal exchange of evidence.
The decision to adopt a topic-based rather than a party-based approach to the presentation of evidence at the inquiry was taken at the pre-inquiry meetings. A good deal of time was spent discussing and agreeing the scope and content of individual topics which, of necessity, could not be mutually exclusive. Draft lists of topics were circulated for written comments too, culminating in the issue of an Inspector's Advice Note setting out the agreed list.
The Inspector announced his intention at the first pre-inquiry meeting to have daily verbatim transcripts of the inquiry proceedings. The Secretariat in consultation with the Inspector and his Deputy, Mike Brundell, investigated various options including traditional and computer-aided transcription services. Following a test run by Mr Brundell at a public inquiry in Hackney and the agreement of the main parties it was decided to use the "LiveNote" transcription system developed by Smith Bernal. How the transcript system was used in the inquiry is described later.
A key concern was the location and choice of venue for the inquiry. There was some debate at pre-inquiry meetings about whether the venue should be in central London (where the Heathrow Terminal 4 inquiry was held) or closer to Heathrow and more easily accessible to local residents. The Secretariat undertook an exhaustive search of over 25 potential venues in Central and West London including hotels, conference centres, offices and Council chambers. They were assessed against a checklist of the key criteria including the capacity to accommodate up to 400 people at peak times, provide adequate office space for the major parties, Secretariat and Inspectors and their accessibility to public transport/ car parking.