SQ opted for a formal Inquiry before an Inspector, Mary T O'Rourke. SQ objected to the exclusion of the Broad Green, Bunkers South and Howe Green sites from the plan. This is understandable. As Mr Campbell said in his opening remarks, the company has no other sites from which to extract gravel, and needs these sites to continue in business.
The plan has stated aims that it will provide a 'land bank' of a constant given capacity, in term of mineral resource, throughout the plan period. The object of the plan stages was to choose sites which would provide this level of resource and which the owners were willing to work. It is therefore expected that any site that gets into the plan would receive planning permission. The above mentioned sites were included in the initial draft plan, having been put for3ward by SQ, rather than being chosen by the Council, but were excluded in the second phase in favour of other sites, such as Hatfield aerodrome, Rickneys and Coursers Lane.
SQ's principal contention was that:
Thus the Hatfield site should be deleted from the plan or that the estimated yield in the plan be reduced, and the sites at Bayford and Howe Green be included.
The barrister employed by SG, Mr Campbell, brought two 'expert' witnesses. The first, stated that the landscape and plant (ie. machinery) consequences of working the three sites were minimal, at that the eventual restoration would lead to enhancement of the sites. Mr Campbell argued and cross-examined at great length. The water was clouded by the stated inadequacy of the second survey of the Hatfield site. His second witness, Mr Cook, gave evidence on the likely yield of the Hatfield and Bayford sites. Mr Campbell gave a virtuoso performance, being the master of the quizzical look, the pained expression and the throw away line, as well as frequent and direct asides to the Inspector.
The barrister for HCC, Mr Perera, who arrived late, called two witnesses. Mr Brian Owen, chief development officer at HCC, was asked about six questions. Two concerned his qualifications on the subject areas he was addressing (landscape and transport), to which he replied he had none. The rest were on the landscape and environmental consequences, which he answered simply yes or no, indicating that there were none. The Inspector asked My Owen how the initial assessment of extraction at Howe Green had in an early document been described as 'not possible without permanent damage' and in a later document this phrase was changed to 'no permanent damage', to which he answered that he did not know.
The second HCC witness, Mrs Sue Davidson of HCC, put up a more spirited defence. In response to repeated questioning from Mr Campbell, she put the Council's position with great firmness and clarity. In particular, she stated that the resource provision under the plan was sufficient even with the reduced yield from the Hatfield site. This appears to demolish the Objectors case.
However, one should never pre-judge events such as these. If GQ were to win this objection it would be nothing short of a disaster for Bayford Parish. Our aspiration of returning the area south of the river Lee to something resembling its original state, would be gone for ever, (well at least 15 - 20 years). Most of the area south of Mr Sherriff's farm, would be the subject of gravel extraction and waste infilling until at least 2011 and probably 2015. There would be mountains of overburden being stored, plant working from early in the morning until late at night, with the resultant engine noise and reversing bleepers. There would be dust in the summer and mud in the winter. The B158 would be put under even more stress.
In view of the above, it is surprising that only 5 parishioners, 2 Bayford parish councillors and about five representatives of other parishes attended. There were no district councillors, no county councillors, no MPs. The council chamber has a capacity of about 200 so you might appreciate it wasn't exactly thronged with concerned residents. SQ mustered 7 people and HCC 4.
On the plus side, the petition organised by Bayford Parish Council, which had previously been excluded from this round on a technicality, was presented to the Inspector. She had obviously read it. Mr Campbell agreed to it being so presented. We are grateful to Cllr. Rowley for its initial creation, and for standing up to HCC who had excluded it, and of course, to all the parishioners who signed it.
Chairman, Bayford Parish Council.