For several weeks now we have been preparing for the start of the planning inquiry into the widening of the A21 (and we are extremely grateful to all the people who objected helping to ensure an inquiry was called!). As many of you will know we are very concerned about this road widening scheme due to the potential loss of around nine hectares (over 22 acres) of precious ancient woodland.
We have been gathering evidence for our case, starting to write our proof of evidence and last week attended the pre-Inquiry meeting. This is basically a formal meeting, led by the Inspector in advance of the start of the Inquiry. The Inspector then has the opportunity to meet all those who wish to take part in the Inquiry whether ‘for’ or ‘against’; written evidence or actual verbal evidence is given before the Inspector from stakeholders, who can then undergo cross examination from the other side. The meeting identifies who will speak, how long the Inquiry is expected to take, the date by when all evidence has to be submitted and the general timetable of proceedings during the Inquiry. So it is a pretty important meeting.
However yesterday this all changed, we have had to reign ourselves in slightly and press pause. The Government Office for the South East of England (GOSE) has sent a letter to stakeholders saying that in light of the new Coalition Government’s Autumn spending review, it would be inappropriate to undertake an Inquiry until the results of the spending review are known.
This seems entirely sensible really– there is no point in spending the money on an Inquiry if there is no budget to pay for the road. This leaves us with the rather important question of whether the proposed road will still be funded after the cuts and the Inquiry resumed.
So we are back to a limbo state. This is a postponement not a refusal; we may have to go back to Inquiry, we may not. We’ll let you know what happens next!