South-West firm Bond Pearce and Birmingham set 5 Fountain Court are preparing to play key roles in the first major planning inquiry since that for Heathrow's Terminal Five.
The public inquiry into Associated British Ports' (ABP) proposed £600m development of a deep-water container terminal at Dibden Bay, Southampton Water, is due to start on 30 October. It is predicted that costs will run into millions. The cost of the Heathrow inquiry is rumoured to have reached £80m. Bond Pearce has a longstanding relationship with ABP, the UK's largest ports group, and is acting as its instructing solicitor in the inquiry. The Bond Pearce team is led by consultant John Houghton and partner Marcus Trinic. The team has been involved in the controversial scheme for around four years. It was closely involved in the drafting of ABP's applications, including its main application for a harbour revision order, submitted last October to the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (now the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions). Since then, a total of 6,000 separate letters objecting to ABP's proposals have been received. Among the main objectors are Hampshire County Council, New Forest District Council, English Nature, the Environment Agency and residential groups.
"It's going to be a test of the way the planning system handles very large projects" John Houghton, Bond Pearce consultant
Bond Pearce has instructed leading planning silk Martin Kingston QC of 5 Fountain Court, who has two juniors working with him because of the size of the case. The juniors are Anthony Crean, also of 5 Fountain Court, and Andrew Newcombe of Gerard Ryan QC's London set 2 Harcourt Buildings. Houghton's team is also working with a Norton Rose team, led by environmental law group head Brian Greenwood, and with Westminster firm Winckworth Sherwood. Houghton said: "This is the first major large-scale public inquiry to take place since that of Heathrow's Terminal Five. It's going to be a test of the way the planning system handles very large projects. It's of particular significance in light of Government proposals to publish a green paper in the autumn on the handling of large projects." The ground rules for the Dibden Bay inquiry have already been set up in line with the current code of practice for handling large inquiries. But Houghton said that the way the case is handled in practice could shape the green paper. In particular, the Government is keen to cut down the length of major inquiries. Greenwood said: "It would mean that planning policy would have to be very specific as far as national strategy is concerned, leaving the public inquiry for local issues. That is what the Government is musing. The reality is that, for a major public inquiry such as Dibden, a very large amount of objections are coming from local interest. That questions whether this would work."