ANGRY Save Peel Hall campaigners have hit out after receiving news that the Planning Inspectorate now intends to hold their public inquiry virtually ‘behind closed doors’ this Autumn.
Due to current Covid restrictions, the Government agency has confirmed that the hearing will now reopen digitally on September 14th for up to ten days and is only allowing cases with ‘exceptional circumstances’ to be heard in public.
Today, campaigner Wendy Johnson-Taylor has also revealed that her group has been granted ‘Rule 6 Status’ which now means that the campaigners will take on a more active role in inquiry proceedings alongside Warrington Borough Council and landowner Satnam Millennium Ltd.
She explained: “Becoming a Rule 6 party is quite rare and an extreme thing to take on, but we can offer significant value to the inquiry process. It involves very strict schedules and deadlines. We will be representing our residents, act as an advocate, cross examine other parties and put our own witnesses up to support our case, as well as giving evidence-in-chief.”
She added that the inquiry Inspector Christina Downes must have considered that campaigners could add ‘substantively’ to the inquiry proceedings. But she added: “This status is only granted in exceptional circumstances so I am dumbfounded as to why our 30 years of successful fighting, massive public support and the huge complexity of this proposal didn’t meet the criteria for a public hearing.”
“Since March we have been receiving all the inquiry evidence and we have been working extremely hard, despite the Covid restrictions, in order to ensure that we prepare credible submissions and prepare as far as possible so that we can perform just as professionally as the other parties. Our preparations had included public awareness events, face to face meetings and site visits but these have been put on hold until restrictions are lifted. I am extremely worried that, despite our robust arguments against setting a new early start date, this decision could well stop us from carrying out our Rule 6 duties.”
Some group members are still currently self-isolating and have yet to complete physical evidence-based research.
Fellow campaigner Jim Sullivan said: “The inspector had originally agreed that to stage our inquiry digitally would risk prejudicing the chance for everyone to fully engage and that she didn’t think it appropriate for this hearing to be part of the initial trial of electronic inquiries.”
“We believe that this reversal is in opposition to natural justice. How can a public inquiry take place without the presence of the public? Many people with an interest in this process are elderly. Some are digitally disadvantaged. It is difficult to see how an electronic process could justify the requirements of a public inquiry. Nevertheless, we need the public to get involved as much as possible. If we cannot overturn the decision to hold our inquiry electronically, then the next best thing will be to use the medium to ensure that the inspector understands the strength of local feeling”.
The group understands that the digital system can accommodate up to 400 people at a time and that sessions will be initially limited to just one and a half hours. Over the coming months campaigners will be encouraging residents’ participation and will be offering advice on how best to use the system.
Wendy reassured supporters that the group is confident that it will endeavour to produce a professional and polished performance and will make sure the Inspector is under no illusion about residents’ concerns and feelings and added that the group will do its “damndest” to save Peel Hall on their behalf.
Wendy added: “At the last inquiry it was clearly evident that Satnam and our council to some degree, didn’t have the local knowledge that we have and I believe the knowledge we hold will be a crucial deciding factor that will sway the balance in our favour. In saying this I hope our council do not renege on its decision to oppose this nightmare of a development and stand with the people who have elected them to do the right thing for us and the future stability of north Warrington.”
The campaign group has now sent letters to council Borough Council Chief Executive Steven Broomhead and Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols urging them to legally challenge and support their call to overturn the Inspectorate decision. They will also be writing to members of the council’s Development Management Committee and local councillors asking for their continued support.
Warrington Borough Council has now announced that it will host a dedicated website to hold documents relating to the appeal.
In line with the requirements of The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure, Listed Buildings and Environmental Impact Assessment) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, Warrington Borough Council has updated its website to include details of the Environmental Impact Assessment Addendum 2 for application reference 2016/28492 – Land at Peel Hall – CLICK HERE