GlosVAIN News and Views from the Inquiry
At lunchtime the Inspector referred to the enquiry as being like the Gold Cup – 22 days being the 22 fences of the course with only the finishing straight left but that is a long uphill struggle!
With the afternoon session from Mr. Phillips QC for UBB we all knew what he meant – 5 hours later he finally crossed the finish line – last!! (Perhaps that’s a good omen.)
Well it’s over and gone are the Stroud DC, gone are GlosVAIN, and GFOE, gone are the GCC and yes gone are UBB.
No more Nick Roberts, gone is Jeremy Smith and Stephen Othen, gone is Simon Aumonier and gone are Mr. Westmorland Smith QC and Mr. Richard Phillips QC.
It’s that time of day now for the circus to pack its bags and leave town.
I shall wake up tomorrow and think to myself – ‘where are the clowns?’.
Late morning saw the first of the closing statements from Mary Newton of GFOE and she majored on the effects of pollution on the Beechwoods and the surrounding fauna.
Next up was GlosVAIN’s Alan Watson and he focused on visual impact, failure to comply with WCS14 and WCS17, lack of proven need, incorrect waste arisings, POP’s, and perception of health risks in a comprehensive presentation.
Last up for the day was Zac Simons QC for Stroud DC and went to great lengths to show that the UBB application had exceeded the maximum height of WCS Appendix 5 and therefore they had a duty to mitigate height and scale of the building to minimise the impact on the setting of the AONB.
It was a detailed and well proofed closing statement and rounded of the day leaving us all to reflect that tomorrow is day 22 and the LAST day of the public part of the inquiry.
Our birthday boy, Mr Watson, put up a gritty fight to show that the figures of waste forecasts used by UBB to try and prove the need for such a big burner were over estimated and indeed much too high when compared against the latest DEFRA annual figures.
Mr. Roberts wriggled and attempted to say the latest DEFRA figures were not lodged as core evidence so as they could not be quoted. However Mr Watson had indeed lodged them to make his case and Mr. Roberts’s forecasts looked unconvincing against the facts of the DEFRA figures.
It was however the Inspector who was responsible for eliciting the quote of the Inquiry from Mr. Roberts when he asked him if ‘I was minded to dismiss the appeal couldn't UBB just re-apply for planning with a smaller building?’ and was answered that it was not that simple because there was no guarantee that it would pass the planning committee as ‘Every-body wants MBT.’
It has taken to day 20 to get the man described as the UBB Ringmaster to finally say the words we all agree with – ‘Every-body wants MBT’.
The questioning was at times fractious and at times akin to two heavyweight boxers slugging it out in the ring – the heaviest punches being delivered by Mr. Elvin.
When we were referred to the Contract between UBB and GCC however it was clear just how much of the detail was redacted. Page after page was blacked out – even details of building materials used and planting and for why? No one could imagine how this could be regarded as commercially confidential.
However it could work against UBB as the Inspector noted that at the Rufford Inquiry it was deemed that information that had been redacted and not available for public scrutiny would be afforded little or no weight.
Mr Simmonds QC for Stroud DC was next to question Mr. Roberts and amazingly when asked if it was fair to say that a landmark building could be called ‘uncharacteristic’ Mr. Roberts agreed – this is an important definition with regard to complying with policy WCS14.
GlosVAIN’s Alan Watson then showed that by questioning the original calculations which showed UBB saving 40,480 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the original application which was challenged by Glosvain, the only ones who did. This was revised to 19,740 tonnes at this inquiry, so more than a halving of the benefits from the figures originally claimed – a key factor for the Secretary of State when considering effects on climate change!
After a re-examination by Mr Phillips QC for UBB he left the stand. One thing I ask myself is because much of his evidence was based on confidential information which was not in the public domain, and so could not be challenged, is just how much weight the Inspector can put on it, if any?
The next and thankfully last witness to take to the stand was Mr Nicolas Roberts of UBB who has often been referred to as the ‘Ringmaster’ of the UBB show.
He was guided through his ‘evidence in chief’ by the untiring Mr Phillips QC and then GCC’s Mr Elvin QC moved in to question him about the public consultations. Mr. Roberts was questioned about the fact that there were months of meetings with the local residents, and public at large, and local councils, and two public exhibitions to ask for feedback received.
When asked what changes were made to the design or any process as a result of the comments from these consultations Mr. Roberts admitted that he could thing of NONE. So it was all just a tick-box process to say that the public had been consulted but in fact they had no input whatsoever since UBB had already had the details cast in concrete and were never going to have taken any notice of what we had to say!
Mike O'Dowd speaks powerfully, covering in particular the impact on the Severn Vale and the impossibility of proving that incinerators are safe..
Chris Harmer brings common sense into the argument regarding the 15.7m height limit at the Javelin Park site, as well as regarding AONB policy and incinerator alternatives.
Costas Ttofa makes a strong case for refusal based on the impact of an incinerator on the younger generation.
Mr Simon Aumonier, the technology expert for UBB was next up and he was firstly cross examined by Mr Simmonds, QC for Stroud DC and he probed some of the conclusions that Mr Aumonier had drawn. One concern to come out of the questioning was that there was a suggestion that if the incinerator were to be built then it could attract a high heat user next door and suddenly we are faced with an industrial complex right under the Beacon.
Mr Alan Watson for GlosVAIN was next to try to get through the obstructive shield that Mr Aumonier was putting up and he managed to prove that parts of Mr Aumonier’s evidence was speculative at best. I was surprised that Mr Aumonier denied knowledge of the IEMA event in Scotland since he presented to this Scotland Central Regional event in February 2010. (Perhaps he just forgot).
We have the prospect of this engagement continuing tomorrow!
Mr Elvin QC for GCC took over the role of examiner and he spent time on referring to the scale and design. By using examples of other EFW sites in the UK Mr Elvin demonstrated that it should be possible to reduce the size of the Building to around 36m without the need to sink it into the ground, therefore indicating that UBB had not attempted to mitigate the size of the Building (contrary to WCS14).
Mary Newton (Friends of the Earth) was next to question Mr Othen who fended off her questions regarding habitat surveys with confidence, and then he had to face short questions from Jan Bailey and Mike O’Dowd. The last hour plus, Mr Othen had to face a series of drawn out questions from Tom Jarman who was warned by the Inspector not to promote his own technology.
Mr Othen was at last advised that after a quick question from the Inspector he would not need to face any more questions, and he must be congratulated for the manner with which he conducted himself throughout today.
The day finished at just gone 1800 hours with a rush to go home amid the thought that we’ll all be back again tomorrow!
This was followed by re-examination by Mr Phillips Qc for UBB and reference was made to Strategic Objective 5 which includes references to cumulative impact (which is exactly the point emphasised by English Heritage in their objection).
However the Inspector did mention that he wanted to say something and he proceeded to advise that he read WCS14 as being in three parts.
‘The only certainty is that, because Javelin Park is not within AONB, we can stop reading the policy after the 3rd bullet point. You are either in the general landscape in which case the 1st paragraph applies, or in the setting of the AONB in which case the 2nd paragraph applies. Does this development affect the setting of the AONB? If it’s affecting the setting, the first paragraph does not apply – so the way UBB’s Mr. Philips QC put questions to Mr. Wyatt of Stroud DC, I thought incorrect – he said even if we do have significant effect, if it is outweighed by benefits it will be outweighed. The way I read the policy you wouldn’t get to that point because it does affect the setting. Mr. Elvin QC for GCC used words ‘adverse effect’ – but this policy is just ‘affecting’. If UBB’s Mr. Smith has accepted that this affects the setting of the AONB, permission can only be given if it meets all 3 bullet points because they are linked by ‘and’.’
(This is a significant directive as it confirms the interpretation of WCS14 to be the same as that position taken by Ben Gilpin back in 2012 after he had received the objections from Natural England and English Heritage.)
Mr. Stephen Othen then took the stand and ably led by Mr. Phillips QC for UBB tried to convince us all that because the EA had issued a permit the incinerator was safe!
Our Alan Watson cross examined and asked how many changes came from the 14 months of public consultation to the design and how emission levels would be monitored – the answer was an unsurprising ‘None’ which showed that the whole effort had been to tick the box, and that every one who had attended had actually been wasting their time.
Mr. Watson explored why continuous monitoring of emissions would have helped the public have more trust in the Incinerator and then spent some time in questions relating to what would happen during shutdown periods. Mr Othen first said that they would fill the pit but the permit states it should be emptied !!
Other important points raised were regarding the fact that at Barton Bridge the stack had been reduced to 44.5m by reducing the NOx levels so why could UBB not tried to have used the same technology here. And finally why did UBB not think of reheating the plume gases to reduce the size of the plume.
Jan Bayley asked a very good question relating to light pollution from the internal lighting on the west elevation and the Inspector finished by asking where Mr Smith thought the creep from the South edge of Gloucester would end.
Next up was Dr Stephan Carter from UBB for heritage matters and it would appear he is another professional witness brought in because of his expertise at public inquiries. He started off being led by Mr Phillips QC in stating why he thought English Heritage had got it wrong but again this is all a matter of professional judgement and I believe English Heritage who are a Statutory Consultee are more independently qualified to make the right call – and they say the damage to our Heritage Sites would be substantial.