Planning Inspectorate Journal - Heathrow Terminal Five article

Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry: Briefing note

The Terminal 5 Application

1. BAA 's planning application for a fifth terminal (T5) at Heathrow Airport was called in by the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Transport in March 1993. In addition to the main T5 application, over 35 linked applications, Orders and appeals under Planning, Highways and Transport and Works Acts are being considered by the inquiry. These include a proposed spur road to connect T5 to a widened M25, improvements to the M4 and extensions to the Heathrow Express railway and Piccadilly Underground lines.

2. The proposed development area for T5 is at the western end of Heathrow. The site is currently occupied by the Perry Oaks Sewage Works - owned by Thames Water. This facility would be displaced if T5 was approved. A separate planning application to develop a new sludge works at Iver South, Bucks, is being considered by the inquiry.

The T5 Inquiry

3. The major public inquiry into the proposals began on 16 May 1995 and ended on 17 March 1999 - nearly 4 years in total. The inquiry, based at the Renaissance Hotel Heathrow, is the longest planning inquiry ever held in the UK. It sat for 525 days.

4. Roy Vandermeer QC is the independent inquiry Inspector. He is supported by a deputy, Mike Brundell, from the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). A further 8 Inspectors from PINS assist with different inquiry topics, supported by a full time Secretariat of 4 staff from GOL, plus occasional casual AO support.

5. The inquiry is organised around a series of topics (see list p. 12). 18 public sessions of the inquiry have been held in various locations around Heathrow so local residents can have their say.

6. There are large numbers of objectors to T5. They include 13 local authorities (LA's), including Hillingdon (local planning authority) and LAHT5 (a consortium of 10 LAs co-ordinated by Surrey County Council). Of 50 major parties participating in the inquiry, including local residents and environmental groups, over 95% oppose T5. Over 700 witnesses have given evidence at the inquiry so far and in excess of 27,500 written representations received, most opposing the applications.

7. A huge volume of evidence has been submitted to the inquiry - over 5,500 documents to date. More than 90 site visits have been made by the Inspectors to locations in and around Heathrow and to airports in South East England and overseas.

Cost of the Inquiry

8. The total cost of the inquiry exceeded £80 m of which around £64m will be borne by BAA/British Airways and the rest (£17 m) by central and local Government. It is estimated the LAs opposing T5 spent over £7 m. Ministers agreed that DETR would pay the cost (around £1 m per annum) of the inquiry hall, daily transcript service and Secretariat expenditure. GOL manages DETR's HT5 budget which is a separate ring fenced cost centre.

It was decided to choose a hotel close to Heathrow as these were amongst the few venues with enough space to accommodate both an inquiry hall and the large amount of office space required as well as being easily accessible to local people. A hotel offered neutral ground for what was expected to be a controversial inquiry. Following a competition a short list of three hotels was drawn up and further negotiations ensued. None of the hotels was very keen to rent its main ballrooms for a long period because of the risk of losing its regular customers.

The Ramada (now Renaissance) Hotel Heathrow then offered to convert their under-used swimming pool into a hall for the exclusive use of the inquiry and were willing to rent over 50 ground floor bedrooms for use as offices by the major parties and Secretariat. As this offer was also the best deal on value for money grounds it was accepted and the Hotel became host to the inquiry. Ministers had previously agreed that, in view of the exceptional nature of the inquiry, the Department of the Environment rather than the local planning authority (Hillingdon) would pay for the cost of the main inquiry accommodation.

Inquiry administration and programming

After more than two years of preparation, the Terminal 5 inquiry finally opened on 16 May 1995. Attendance followed the pattern usual at major inquiries. There were large audiences on the opening and closing days (over 400 people on the former) and local public sessions were generally well attended but on most days few members of the public were present.

Although over 70 groups and individuals had registered as major parties only about half played an active role in the inquiry. The principal parties were BAA plc (the applicant), British Airways (supporting Terminal 5), the Highways Agency (promoting the Highways Orders), the London Borough of Hillingdon (the local planning authority opposing Terminal 5), Spelthorne Borough Council (opposing) and LAHT5 (a consortium of 10 local authorities also opposing Terminal 5). The Environment Agency and Royal Parks Agencys were also closely involved in some topics. All of these parties were represented by legal Counsel. In all 33 barristers or solicitor advocates, including 12 QCs, appeared for these and other parties during the course of the inquiry.

Demonstration by local objectors to T5 outside the Renaissance Hotel on the closing day of the inquiry:

Terminal five demonstrators

Around 20 smaller third parties and individuals played a regular part in the proceedings including local environmental and aircraft noise action groups and residents associations. The smaller groups represented themselves. The Secretariat had no power or resources to assist with any party's legal costs although they did rent some bedrooms for use as offices by the smaller groups.

The inquiry depended heavily on the co-operation and goodwill of all parties and, in spite of the deep feelings some issues aroused, there was always a co-operative and orderly atmosphere.

The Code of Practice for major inquiries was followed closely but it was clear from the start that the scale and complexity of the Terminal 5 inquiry would require further guidance and procedures to be developed to reflect its unique circumstances. A series of 17 Inspector's Advice Notes on the giving of evidence and conduct of cross-examination was issued to parties during the course of the inquiry to encourage good practice and make the best use of inquiry time.

New methods for increasing inquiry efficiency were tried at the inquiry. These were the subject of a detailed article by Ian Gatenby of Cameron Mckenna (BAA's Solicitors) in the Spring 1996 issue of the Planning Inspectorate Journal. They included holding regular Joint Working Party meetings, usually chaired by an Assistant Inspector, of all the parties likely to be involved in a particular topic some months before evidence was due to be submitted. The purpose of the Working Party was to supervise progress by the parties in agreeing data or key issues before the start of a new topic and agree on a timetable for its submission. They also received Position Statements from Joint Data Groups.

The Joint Data Groups, usually chaired by a local authority officer, consisted of representatives of major parties who would be submitting data on the relevant topics. They held detailed discussions, sometimes involving technical experts, to try and agree on as much data as possible before proofs of evidence had to be submitted. Position Statements would then be issued to confirm what had or had not been agreed by the various parties.

In addition to these initiatives, regular Programming meetings were chaired by the Deputy Inspector or an Assistant Inspector. These were held to deal with procedural matters and review progress on all topics and the inquiry timetable as a whole, and identify possible obstacles to achieving target timescales. The aim of all these measures was to try and ensure as much clarification of data and procedure occurred outside the inquiry, so that inquiry time could focus on cross examination on issues still in dispute.

In spite of the length of the Terminal 5 inquiry, all the evidence suggests that all the above measures did help to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the inquiry process. Without them, the Inspector would have faced an even harder task in narrowing the issues and getting parties to deliver evidence on time which might have made the inquiry even longer.

Demonstration by supporters of T5 outside the Renaissance Hotel on the closing day:

Demonstration by supporters of Terminal five

The inquiry's topic based approach provided a manageable way of handling the huge amount of evidence submitted by parties to the inquiry. Each topic was treated like a mini-inquiry in its own right and enabled all interested parties to produce and complete their evidence on the issues within it before the inquiry moved on to the next topic. In the case of the larger topics the main parties were given the opportunity to make opening statements at the start of the topic, and then invited to make position statements at the end of the topic in the light of the evidence and cross examination they had heard. BAA plc, as applicants, had the right to make an opening statement at the start of every topic.

The inquiry topics used in the inquiry are listed in the table on page 12 which shows the number and percentage of inquiry days devoted to each.

There was an initial list of 11 topics but two more were added during the course of the inquiry to take account of a new application (Twin Rivers) and hear evidence on the Government's new transport policy White Paper.

Nearly 60 per cent of inquiry time (313 days) was taken up by just three topics: the economic/ aviation case for the proposals (Topic 1), surface access to Terminal 5 (Topic 4) and noise (Topic 5). These covered the main issues of concern to local objectors although the effects of the terminal on land use/ ecology (Topic 3), air quality (Topic 6) and construction impact (Topic 9) were important locally too.

Thirty five parties made closing submissions at the end of the inquiry. These took 40 sitting days in total. BAA's own closing speech took almost 14 sitting days. In spite of the resource constraints affecting some major parties, particularly local authorities, in the latter stages of the inquiry all the principal parties gave final submissions.

During the inquiry, time was set aside for local public sessions. In 1996 a series of 11 informal public sessions was held at local venues, such as community centres, civic centre and sports halls) in areas surrounding Heathrow or under the flight path and affected by aircraft noise. These meetings attracted over 1,500 people and some 350 individuals spoke at the sessions. Further public sessions were held at the Renaissance Hotel for members of the public who wished to speak. Some speakers, unable to attend the general sessions, were given fixed slots to address the Inspector on an ad-hoc basis on other sitting days. Special sessions were provided for 18 MPs and MEPs to address the inquiry.

Role of the secretariat and use of IT

The full time Secretariat of six staff (later reduced to four) was responsible for the day to day administration and programming of the inquiry and maintaining the inquiry library. They supported the Inspector, his Deputy and eight Assistant Inspectors who joined the inquiry at different times to help with particular topics. In addition two (later reduced to one) Commissionaires were employed to maintain the registration desk and look after the inquiry hall itself. The Secretariat was able to manage with relatively few staff compared to other large inquiries (the 1989/89 Hinkley Point Nuclear Power station inquiry, for example, employed over 30 staff) largely because of the considerable investment in computers and IT facilities.

Inspector Roy Vandermeer QC at the inquiry:

Inspector Roy Vandermeer QC

IT was employed in a number of ways to improve the efficiency of inquiry administration. A computer software package known as "Dataease" was used from the time the application was first called in to record details of all written representations received including names, addresses and post codes of respondents and issues raised. This enabled summary analyses of the 27,500 representations submitted (including the 5,000 parties and individuals formerly registered as inquiry participants) to be produced quickly and easily by computer even down to post code areas if required. It proved invaluable in pin-pointing potential locations for local public sessions.

The "LiveNote" computerised transcript system was extensively used by the Inspectors and all major parties to the inquiry. The system involves a form of real-time reporting in which a stenographer records verbatim into a computerised machine the words of a speaker which are then transmitted via computer cables to lap top computers connected to the stenographers machine. Users receive an almost instantaneous real-time transcript of proceedings which they can then mark, annotate and issue-code or search for text live in the inquiry hall or in a remote location by modem link.

Smith Bernal's reporting team of two stenographers plus an editor and office supervisor successfully completed the task of transcribing more than 21 million words or 100,000 pages of transcript in real-time. At the peak there were 25 users connected to the LiveNote system, including a live link to DETR headquarters some 15 miles away. A modem link to a lap-top computer in the inquiry library was also maintained for use by the Secretariat and members of the public. The Deputy Inspector made considerable use of LiveNote's searching and reporting features, in particular, which should prove of great benefit whilst the inquiry report is in preparation. Hard copies of the transcript were also made each evening by the Secretariat and distributed to major parties.

Deputy Inspector Mike Brundell at the inquiry:

Deputy Mike Brundell

An electronic document management system known as "R/KYV" (pronounced archive) was also acquired to enable nearly 6,000 documents submitted to the inquiry to be held on computer as well as in paper form. Documents were scanned into the system and can be retrieved and viewed on screen in the same format as the printed version. The great strengths of the system are that it not only makes it easy to store, manage and index documents but also makes it quicker to find and access and cross-reference documents with the aid of electronic keyword searches which can be undertaken in seconds. The system almost eliminates documents getting lost.

Enquiry timings

In addition to a fileserver-based R/KYV system maintained by the Secretariat, standalone PC-based systems using large Pentium computers have been supplied to some Inspectors so they can undertake free text database searches of inquiry documents at home.

Finally, an electronic filing system known as "Cardbox" was employed to record all documents placed in the inquiry library so that there was a further check on material received and document lists could be produced by party, topic or sub-topic quickly and easily using a computer.

Site Visits

Accompanied site visits formed an important part of the proceedings and over 90 were carried out during the course of the inquiry. Visits were normally linked to particular topics and, where appropriate, to the applications being considered as part of these. Most visits were made to sites in and around Heathrow or under the flightpath to Heathrow in the case of the noise topic. Accompanied site visits were, however, made to places further afield where this was relevant to the evidence presented and supported by the parties. These visits included Stansted, Gatwick, Luton and City airports in the South East; to the West Drayton and Swanwick Air Traffic Control Centres, and to Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt airports in Europe. Visits were also made to Atlanta and Chicago airports in the USA and Singapore's Changi airport.

Visit to view landscaping near proposed site of Colnebrook Logistics Centre Jan 99. Inspectors (L to R). Roy Vandermeer, Clive Wilkinson and Mike Brundell


Why the inquiry took so long

The timing and conduct of the inquiry were a matter for the Inspector. That said, no definitive estimate of how long the inquiry would take could be made when it started. A provisional forecast of eighteen months was assumed for contract and budgeting purposes but this was before any proofs of evidence had been submitted or likely cross-examination estimates supplied. No one had envisaged the inquiry taking as long as it did.

Factors contributing to the length of the inquiry were, first of all, the sheer scale and complexity of the issues under consideration. The inquiry has had to consider not just one but nearly 40 linked applications and orders under seven separate pieces of legislation. Some applications could have been the subject of a major inquiry in their own right. Around half the planning applications were submitted after the inquiry had begun. Six new planning applications, including a scheme to divert two rivers which cross the site, were submitted as late as Spring 1998.

Changes to applications being considered by the inquiry, particularly changes by the Highways Agency to the Highway Orders caused adjournments to the inquiry on two separate occasions in 1996 and added to its length. The new Highway Orders took from six to nine months to bring before the inquiry because of the need to comply with statutory procedures. The cancellation in the Chancellor's 1996 budget of some major road schemes in the Terminal 5 traffic modelling area, previously assumed to be commitments, also caused an adjournment whilst the traffic model was re-run.

The need to clarify Government policy on a number of important matters, such as aviation in Topic 1 and transport policy in Topic 4, took a good deal of time. The last Airports Policy White Paper was issued in 1985 so a significant time was spent in Topic 1 updating the inquiry on policy developments since then. The new Integrated Transport Policy White Paper issued in July 1998 also had to be taken into account and inquiry time set aside to deal with possible implications for Terminal 5.

The level of opposition to the proposals and volume of evidence submitted added to the scale of the task. The inquiry heard evidence from 734 witnesses in total representing over 50 major parties and received more than 600 proofs of evidence and over 22,500 written representations, most expressing opposition to the proposals. Under the inquiry rules all had a statutory right to be heard and to challenge the views of others and time had to be set aside to let them have their say.

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