I am writing after reading the minutes of a meeting which took place between the Planning Inspectorate and RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) on the 12th May 2017. The meeting related to a potential DCO application to reopen the airport at Manston and the minutes have been published on the planning inspectorate web-site.
According to the minutes, the planning inspectorate has agreed to a tripartite meeting between themselves, RSP and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to discuss the licencing of the airfield. The planning inspectorate agreed to this meeting once the consultation process had taken place.
You may, or may not, be aware that the CAA will not accept an application for a licence unless the applicant owns the land or has specific permission from the owners of the land. This being the case I have to ask what purpose is served by holding this meeting?
I have two concerns. Firstly, RSP intend to use this meeting to persuade the CAA that they have a realistic prospect of acquiring the land and, by so doing, would be able to press the CAA to commence the process of licensing before they have acquired the land. Secondly, the Planning Inspectorate would be then be portrayed as having given some kind of assurance to the CAA that the DCO would be accepted and would be successful. In other words, the Planning Inspectorate would be guilty of pre-determination.
I would like to suggest that the Planning Inspectorate should resist any attempt to meet with the CAA in relation to Manston. No DCO application has been submitted and, even if such an application is made, it would not be sensible for the Planning Inspectorate to meet with the CAA in advance of the application being determined.
Unfortunately, there is an aggressive campaign group (SMA) which is hell-bent on seeing Manston reopened. This group is highly active on social media with a mailing list running into thousands. This doesn't mean that thousands of people support the campaign. It just means that they have been able to add people to the mailing list. Over the course of the last year, this group has repeatedly bombarded people with misinformation about the DCO application. People have been told that this is a National Infrastructure Project whereas, in truth, this decision has not been made. People have been led to believe that the DCO is bound to succeed and that the Planning Inspectorate is helping to ensure that the application succeeds. The Planning Inspectorate has held regular meetings with the potential applicant but has not met with the local council or with any of the many thousands of people who would be badly affected by this ridiculous proposal. I trust that nothing is further from the truth and that the Planning Inspectorate has confined itself to assisting RSP with the mechanics of the application. Nevertheless, an impression has been created that the Planning Inspectorate is not acting impartially. If the Planning Inspectorate goes ahead and meets with the CAA, this will do nothing to allay fears that this DCO application is a done deal and that the Planning Inspectorate has not acted as an independent arbiter.
I respond to your substantive points under the following three headings.
Process evaluation workshop (heading)
Where the need arises, the Planning Inspectorate can offer a facilitation role by participating in round table meetings for example, between an Applicant, local authority and statutory consultees. The purpose of such meetings is explained in our Pre-application Prospectus: attachment 1
A process evaluation workshop was held on 12 June 2017. It was attended by the Planning Inspectorate, the Civil Aviation Authority (a statutory consultee) and RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP, the Applicant). The note of the meeting is being prepared and will be published to the Planning Inspectorate’s website in due course.
By way of summary, the meeting included:
• A presentation by RSP on its Pre-application programme;
• Consideration of how the Planning Act 2008 (PA2008) process and Airspace Change Process (ACP) interact;
• Consideration of RSP’s preferred timescale in respect of initiation of the ACP; and
• Consideration of complexities associated with assessing noise impacts between Environmental Impact Assessment and the requirements of the ACP.
No project-specific advice was issued by the Planning Inspectorate in the course of the meeting.
The PA2008 process and the ACP (heading)
Inevitably the PA2008 process and the ACP will be concerned with similar issues, but procedurally the processes are entirely distinct. The Planning Inspectorate will administer and examine any forthcoming land-use application which includes a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), and the CAA will administer and consider any forthcoming application to redesign airspace. In respect of the latter, it is not for the Planning Inspectorate to decide when the CAA will be prepared to accept and consider an application for airspace change, or to consider any perquisites for any such application. This is a matter for the CAA to provide advice about. Therefore if you have any further queries about the ACP you should contact the CAA directly using the appropriate channels.
The fundamental values of the Planning Inspectorate are its commitment to openness, transparency and impartiality in the conduct of its business. Absolutely no assurances have been provided to the CAA or RSP in respect of the outcome of any application for development consent. Indeed, you are correct that a decision will not be made about whether the proposed development includes an NSIP until such time as an application is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate and the suite of statutory Acceptance tests are applied.
Pre-application meetings with RSP (heading)
In respect of the Planning Inspectorate’s meetings with RSP, the advice issued at each of them has been recorded and published to our website in line with the requirements of the PA2008.
There are various benefits to the Planning Inspectorate to be kept up to date with an applicant’s Pre-application programme, not least in respect of our own resourcing, and regular meetings are helpful to this end. Notwithstanding this, the Planning Inspectorate is responsive to meetings requested by any of the PA2008’s stakeholders; including outreach events in local communities. The holding of any such meetings or events would be considered by the Planning Inspectorate wherever it thought there would be value in the meeting or event taking place, and where the meeting or event was proposed to be held at an appropriate time in the PA2008 process. As you are aware, there are also other channels through which anybody can request and receive procedural advice from the Planning Inspectorate, including by phone; email; or letter.