Rival counsel set out positions as SIFE public inquiry gets under way

The SIFE public inquiry kicked off today with opening statements from opposing counsel and the first witness called – Slough Borough Council’s Paul Stimpson.   But the inspector noted that Slough and Goodman may have agreed their common ground but residents have not had the same opportunity.

The SIFE inquiry has begun at The Centre, Farnham Road.

The SIFE inquiry has begun at The Centre, Farnham Road.

Proceedings got off to a slow start in the first day of the public inquiry into the Slough International Freight Exchange.  In a morning taken up largely with introductions, technical procedure, and agreeing the running order, there was little time left after opening statements to begin with the first witness before lunch.

As with the Pre Inquiry Meeting Goodman Logistics Development (UK) Limited was represented by Christopher Katkowski QC and Slough Borough Council by Richard Ground QC.  Goodman’s team of 9 dwarfed the SBC team.

Helioslough Ltd, the Rule 6 Party, were represented but only as observers to make sure that the inquiry did not turn into a “beauty parade” – presumably a reference to the six year battle between the rival Colnbrook and Radlett developments which a Statement of Common Ground appears, at least for now, to have laid to rest.  Helioslough’s representative, present, said the company did not expected to play a part in the inquiry other than to answer questions posed by the inspector relating to the timetable for construction of the Radlett freight terminal.

Also attending the inquiry merely to observe was Heathrow Airport.  A Mr Frost from Heathrow sat unanounced in the back row until the inspector specifically asked if anybody from Heathrow was present.  Heathrow’s brief submission to the inquiry – expected before now according to the inspector – was handed over by Goodman.

Diane Lewis, presiding, made clear that it was not her decision to reject the postponement of the inquiry until after the decision on a Third Runway.  That was made higher up the food chain.

She says she has spent time on foot visiting the former Tanhouse Gravel Pits, the SIFE site, getting a feel for the lay of the land before the inquiry started.  She will be guided by counsel as to whether a further site visit is needed, and to whether a visit to other SRFIs may be useful but she was keen to get on with the business at hand.

Several loud screams at one point interrupted proceedings.  But far from being the first blood-letting of the inquiry were quickly attributed to a life saving course in the room next door – to some amusement.  Humour was not in short supply though as the suited and booted gently squared up to one another.

Paul Stimpson, Strategic Lead Planning Policy & Projects at Slough Borough Council, was the first (and will be the only) witness to be called by Slough Borough Council, reprising a role he played at the LIFE inquiry over a decade ago.

Slough Borough Council will continue with Mr Stimpson tomorrow before cross-examination by the Goodman team for most of the day.  For a summary of today’s opening comments click here.

Mrs Lewis focused throughout mainly on residents rather than the two legal teams either side of her, she noted early on that Slough and Goodman may have agreed their common ground, but she was aware that interested parties had not.  That may suggest the weight she may place on local representations.  Certainly the revelation that air quality and highways objections had been dropped by Slough Borough Council in the Statement of Common Ground reached with Goodman came as surprise to some.

Interested parties – stopSIFE, the Colnbrook Community Association, Colne Valley Park, Colnbrook and Iver Parish Councils and the Richings Park Residents Association were all present – are being lined up mainly for Thursday, with Cllr Dexter Smith due to address the inquiry first thing on Friday morning.

Three parish councillors were present – councillors Laxman, Angell, and Jackson (wearing a Stop SIFE Again poster around his neck).

Mrs Lewis warned those addressing the inquiry she wants “no manifestos” and expects everybody to have read all the mountains of documents piled up on the table “or we’ll be here forever!”.

No winners and no losers yet after just Day One, but the inspector at least gives the impression of one who intends to leave no stone unturned.

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