By its own admission Hexham-based Amec has adopted an unusual position in the inquiry – it wants to persist with its application, but withdraw from a full-scale role in proceedings.
William Norris QC attended to outline the company’s stance last week, but will not be back until the closing statements, expected to be made in April.
In the meantime, Amec will present its case without legal representation, witnesses simply being cross-examined, then questioned, if necessary, by the inquiry’s Inspector.
The stance, Mr Norris argued last Tuesday, was a necessary reaction to the MoD’s “fundamental U-turn” and its decision to now object to the applications following research into the adverse effects of wind turbines on air traffic control radars.
Hiring legal representation, he said, was too much of a risk without knowing if and when the company would get anywhere close to understanding and answering the MoD objection.
“One of the main reasons why the project did not become a formal application much sooner was because, in the 1990s, there were then unresolved concerns about a possible adverse impact on aviation interests,” Mr Norris said.
“Those were addressed during a lengthy dialogue involving the developer, the MoD, the RAF and the DTI.
“As a result of these discussions, the concerns of the MoD were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.”
This appeared to be confirmed in December 2005, after a formal application was submitted. A letter sent by the ministry’s Defence Estates department said it had no objections to the construction of 20 125m wind turbines at the Ray Estate.
The application proceeded normally, and up to September 13 this year, Amec continued to prepare for the inquiry on the understanding that the MoD did not object to the proposals.
At that stage, however, it was told that new evidence had emerged, encouraging a more robust approach to wind turbine assessments.
“Now, as anyone who has any regard for the actual chronology will recognise, that explanation is at best wholly inadequate – more accurately it is frankly disingenuous,” argued Mr Norris.
“That is because the MoD’s formal statement that it did not object to the Ray project was made in December 2005, seven months after this apparently key and new report of May 2005 had been received.”
The new objection apparently caused great concern to Amec, which wrote immediately to the MoD, asking for information.
Amec then sought an adjournment of the inquiry, but on November 21 it learned its application had been refused.
Mr Norris said: “In the meantime, and subsequently, we continued to press the MoD for the material we needed and for a further meeting. Amec’s calls were not returned, nor was the necessary material provided.
“Eventually, on December 11, some material was forthcoming but the incompleteness and inadequacy of what was supplied then was self-evident, as we explained both to the Inspector and to the MoD by email the following day.
“Two days later, on December 14, and in a state of continuing frustration, we communicated our decision that, if the inquiry were not adjourned, we would be unwilling to play a full part at it.”
The stance was then explained in detail at a procedural meeting on December 20, when, according to Mr Norris, the MoD’s “cavalier attitude” was “utterly depressing”.
“If other developers are better placed in this inquiry, then we envy them,” he said.
“If they succeed in persuading the MoD of the error of its ways and of the irrationality of its objection during the course of this inquiry, we shall be genuinely grateful to them.”
By Robert Gibson
25 January 2008
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