Inquiry could remain ‘open’ longer after council blunder

Ellenbrook Fields near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during golden hour

Those who had made representations on the application by email had only been sent notification of the Inquiry the night before. - Credit: Harriet Pickard

The planning inquiry into proposals for a quarry on the site of the former Hatfield Aerodrome could remain open for a number of days after the public evidence sessions are complete due to the county council’s failure to write to objectors in time.

Herts county council was expected to give 14 days notice to anyone who had made a "representation" with regard to the quarry application that the inquiry was taking place.

But on the opening day of the inquiry, which is expected to last eight days, it emerged that this had not been done. HCC had notified those who were registered to appear at the hearings and did put notices on the site.

It had placed a "press advertisement" including the date and time of the inquiry, as well as creating a dedicated page on the council’s website.

But on Tuesday (November 16) Planning Inspector John Woolcock was told that those who had made representations on the application by email had only been sent notification the night before.

Mr Woolcock heard that those who had only supplied addresses with their comments would be written to that day.

The county council proposed that the hearing proceeds but with further efforts being made on that day to contact everyone.

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And it asked "that flexibility is shown to allow any members of the public who were not previously aware of the inquiry date to appear at any time over the course of the inquiry".

Representing the county council, David Forsdick QC said the "administrative oversight was regrettable" but said it would be difficult to see how anyone could claim any prejudice.

Representing Brett Aggregates Richard Kimblin QC said that it was "unfortunate".

He pointed to the need for those who wanted to make a contribution to have an opportunity to do so and he suggested this could still be achieved.

Mr Kimblin also suggested that due to other means, such as through the residents’ associations and parish councils,  that "maybe everybody knows".

Attending on the first day, Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Zukowskyj said that he had been an objector to the original application but had had no confirmation to say the inquiry was going ahead.

He said he had even heard suggestions that it may have been suspended, pending the consideration of a further planning application for the site.

And he told the hearing that he only knew for certain that it was going ahead because he contacted a senior member of the county council’s planning team directly.

Cllr Margaret Eames-Petersen, from Hatfield Town Council, also suggested there had been confusion about the status of the appeal hearing, in light of the second application.

“Residents have found that very confusing,” she said. “Having blue water between the decision of this hearing seems fair to me. There seems to be confusion between the two.”

Planning Inspector Mr Woolcock said that whatever had happened in the run-up to the inquiry, he would ensure everyone had a fair opportunity to participate.

And he said there would be the opportunity for people to appear or to contribute virtually throughout the inquiry, which is expected to last for eight days.

He said he was concerned that there had not been the full 14 days notice for people.

And he said that when the end of the inquiry was reached he would consider keeping the inquiry open so that anyone who wished to appear within the 14 day period could do so via Microsoft Teams.

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