Councils reach midway mark in terminal clash

The longest public inquiry in British legal history enters the half-way stage next month as a collective of local authorities tries to defeat plans for a new Heathrow terminal.

Hearings into the controversial Terminal Five proposal began in May 1995 and are predicted to drag on until 1998.

Joanne Mortimer, Surrey County Council's principal solicitor, is coordinating the case for 10 local authorities which oppose the terminal. So far there have been 26,000 written submissions, involving up to 300 witnesses and more than 2,000 documents.

"I think we have got it down to a fine art now," said Mortimer of co-ordinating the case. "The real work was at the beginning – getting everyone together."

Mortimer is instructing barristers Sheila Cameron QC and Craig Howell Williams, of 2 Harcourt Buildings.

Leading the airport's case is Lord Silsoe, who has worked extensively with BAA previously, along with his Mitre Court Chambers colleagues Guy Roots QC, Michael Humphries and Reuben Taylor. McKenna & Co are the instructing solicitors.

Mortimer is happy with the way the hearings are progressing and said her team lacked only one thing. "In terms of money, they've got a heck of a lot more," she said.

Cost is one reason the 10 councils went to in-house solicitors, rather than instructing a City firm. The length and scope of the inquiry is such that it has been divided into 11 topics with the latest hearings beginning on 12 November.

But Mortimer is undaunted by the scope of her brief. "I think it is advantageous in some ways in that you never have to be distracted, it's so large and absorbing. You take it topic by topic but you have to see it all in the overall picture," she added.

BAA strategic planning director Lynne Meredith, who is co-ordinating her side's case, says that while the inquiry is only at the half-way stage it has been designed to produce a swift result once final submissions are heard.

Inquiry inspector Roy Vandermeer QC has assistants writing reports at the end of each topic. That means in effect solicitors are presenting each topic as a mini-case outlining arguments at the beginning and summing up at the end. "It's obviously set up this way so he can get the report out quickly,' said Meredith.