We are told that RiverOak Strategic Partners has withdrawn its application for a Development Consent Order to reopen Manston Airport.
Further information has only come from one of the local MP's, Sir Roger Gale, who has revealed that the Planning Inspectorate has been in touch with the company and has expressed dissatisfaction with some aspects of the application documentation. According to Sir Roger the matters are minor and involve dotting some i's and crossing some t's. He says that the application has been withdrawn so that the applicant and PINS can have "more detailed conversations about what the Planning Inspectorate requires."
This is an interesting turn of phrase. It seems to imply that the Planning Inspectorate will be acting as some kind of unpaid consultancy to ensure that the application is successful.
I'm sure you can see the problem here. The Planning Inspectorate is charged with making a decision about the DCO on behalf of the Secretary of State. How then can the Planning Inspectorate be advising the applicants on what they need to do in order to be successful? There is a clear conflict of interest. I am not the only person to have commented on this.
The failure to make a decision on the application which was submitted does call into question the Planning Inspectorate's impartiality. The scenario set out by the MP seems to suggest that the Planning Inspectorate has leaked news of their intention to reject the application, giving the applicant opportunity to withdraw it shortly before the decision was announced.
What is the point of an application process if you are going to do this? If you did this for everybody, no application would ever fail. They would all be withdrawn before the decision was announced. As some applications to get rejected it seems pretty clear that you don't do this for all applicants.
Could you explain how you can be viewed as an impartial party in this process when you are so intricately involved with the applicant whilst having little to do with or say to the legal owners of the site?
We cannot comment on the assertions of local politicians.
The Planning Inspectorate must record and publish any advice that it gives in respect of making an application for development consent, or making a representation such an application.
The advice provided here explains how the Planning Inspectorate advised the Applicant during the Acceptance stage: attachment 1
Advice reflecting the same concerns would have been issued to the Applicant if it had not decided to withdraw the application and the Planning Inspectorate had proceeded to issue an Acceptance decision.