Counting the cost of inquiry

Chris Fogarty finds the solicitor fighting the Terminal Five inquiry in upbeat mood, despite serious funding problems. The council solicitor leading the opposition to the proposed Terminal Five building at Heathrow Airport has admitted that her legal team may have to scale back its efforts because of a lack of funds.

Surrey County Council principal solicitor Joanne Mortimer has revealed that eight out of the 10 councils that have funded her legal team since the Terminal Five inquiry began in May 1995 have yet to decide if they will pour more money into the hearing.

"I think we will get much of the money we have asked for but we may not get all of it so we may have to do some pruning," said Mortimer.

One cost-saving option is for the council team to offer written rather than oral submissions to inquiry inspector Roy Vandermeer QC.

Vandermeer has divided the hearing into 11 topics, five of which have been heard. Mortimer and legal team Sheila Cameron QC and Craig Howell Williams, from 2 Harcourt Buildings, may now not appear in person at the public safety and air quality hearings.

Reducing the legal team's number of offices from three to two at the hearing's headquarters at Heathrow's Ramada Hotel is another option.

The Terminal Five hearing has pitted local authority environmental concerns against BAA's claims that a new passenger terminal would ease congestion at the airport and bring about £500m annually in extra revenue for British business.

Last Friday, the inquiry equalled the 340-day record set for the longest British legal hearing, held by the Sizewell B nuclear power station inquiry.

Mortimer said she expected the hearing to go on until the autumn of 1998.

The group of 10 councils opposing the project, known as LAHT5, has already spent £2.9m in legal fees, consultants and administration costs.

The London Borough of Hillingdon, which is also individually opposing the proposal as the local authority that has Heathrow within its boundaries, has spent another £2m.

BAA's costs are also mammoth. It is instructing Cameron McKenna, and its lead counsel, Lord Silsoe QC, is reported to be on more than £1,500 a day.

He is backed up by colleagues Guy Roots QC, Michael Humphries and Reuben Taylor, all from Michael Fitzgerald QC's chambers at 2 Mitre Court Buildings. Fitzgerald is lead counsel for British Airways, which is also involved in the hearings.

Overall the inquiry has cost £75 million to date.

But despite stretched resources and a legal marathon that shows no signs of finishing soon, Mortimer remains upbeat. "Of course, you get tired but it is still a challenge," she said.

The length of the enquiry has prompted calls from some quarters for planning enquiry procedures to be tightened up.

But Mortimer has mixed feelings about the wisdom of doing this. She said it was important for democracy that everyone had their say, although she acknowledged that the development of a national airport policy would ease the burden on similar hearings.