Highways presented their detailed plans for the scheme in various public forums, and anyone interested was able to submit their views, whether in favour or against, by a date in April 2018. In theory, Highways were supposed to consider all submissions and, giving them due weight, respond accordingly, if necessary to alter the scheme. However, it was soon clear Highways had already decided on the short tunnel scheme, ruling out other options before the public consultation even began, so that they were only interested in listening to suggestions on tweaking minor details of the tunnel scheme, not in any arguments – however strong - that the scheme was misconceived and should be abandoned.
Registration of Interested Parties
Ended January 2019
Having confirmed the preferred scheme in Autumn 2017, notwithstanding the extensive objections received during the statutory consultation period, not least from UNESCO, Highways filed all their documents presenting the scheme with the (independent) Planning Inspectorate, which subsequently agreed the paperwork was in order, enabling the planning application part of the process to commence. The first stage of that was to set a deadline of 11 January 2019 for any Interested Parties to register with the Planning Inspectorate, setting out in their “relevant representations” brief the issues that they wished to be addressed during the Examination process itself. No one will be able to raise issues with the Examiners if they were not first raised in their relevant representations.
2nd April 2019
The first set-piece event in the Examination is the preliminary meeting, which all interested parties are invited to attend. The Planning Inspectorate appoints a board of examiners, and a suitable venue will be announced for the preliminary meeting. As there were over 2300 relevant representations by interested parties, the meeting will need to be carefully planned. The Examiners will sift through all representations to select those issues which they feel deserve attention. The preliminary meeting will be used to establish a timetable for the remainder of the examination process. It is an opportunity for interested parties to make submissions as to further specific issue meetings, the use of expert evidence in specific fields, whether site visits are required, etc. The latest information is that the preliminary meeting is expected to be held in early April 2019.
Latest October 2019
The preliminary meeting triggers a statutory timetable. Essentially, the Examiners have a maximum of 6 months to complete the examination process – which can involve the calling of various meetings, and calls for written submissions on key issues. This will therefore run to October 2019 at the latest.
Latest January 2020
Once the examination process closes, the Examiners have a further 3 months to consider all evidence laid before them and make their final recommendation to the Sec of State for Transport (whoever that may be), whether in their view the scheme should be approved for development or rejected. This will take us to early January 2020 at the latest.
Development Consent Order
Latest April 2020
Having received the Examiners’ recommendation, the Sec of State for Transport has a further 3 months to deliberate, if required, before he or she must make a decision. That takes us to early April 2020 at the latest. It is important to note at this point that even if the Examiners do not approve the scheme, the Sec of State for Transport still has the power to overrule that recommendation and approve the scheme. If the scheme is approved, a Development Consent Order is issued, which is the same as planning permission, but on a grander scale.
Judicial Review Proceedings
Latest Deadline: May 2020
In the event the scheme is approved, any party has 6 weeks from the final decision to apply to the courts for permission for judicial review of that decision. In practice, legal advice would be taken on this point, and grounds for judicial review would have to be made out. One common ground is that the decision (by a public body or officer) was irrational, based on the information available. If, for example, the Sec of State approved the scheme contrary to the advice of the Examiners after the lengthy examination process, without providing cogent reasons for doing so, that might well leave the decision open to challenge by JR on the grounds of irrationality. However, JR is an expensive process, and crowd-funding a further legal campaign would be necessary.