By Richard Belfield
Right at the start of the public enquiry into the Cleve Hill solar farm, Sir David Melville from the Faversham Society and Richard Knox-Johnston from the Council for the Protection of Rural England challenged the choice of inspector, as they believed he has a conflict of interest and should therefore not have been appointed.
Last June, they wrote to the government pointing out that David Rose was the examiner of the London Array Inquiry in 2006/7 and had recommended that the transfer station be built. They argued that it was only because he cleared this first stage that the developers could go
ahead with the current plans.
Whilst not questioning his integrity, they also pointed out that back in 2007 he did not consider Graveney Marshes to be “of sufficient importance to warrant protection from industrial development.” In other words, he had already made his mind up and could not now turn down the current application, without questioning his original decision.
They added that such a clear conflict of interest questioned the credibility of the inquiry and meant that his decision could be challenged.
In September, the government responded to say that all inspectors have a code of conduct requiring them to be impartial. The Planning Inspectorate then added a third inspector, each with an equal vote. According to the reply, this had nothing to do with the conflict of interest, but was “in response to the scale of written representations received and in recognition of the complexity of the issues raised.”
Sir David Melville told the Faversham Eye, “This is a classic bureaucratic response that misses the point and totally fails to address the conflict of interest of the Chief Examiner who should have been excluded from the whole process. Even if a further ten examiners were appointed it would still be improper to have Mr Rose in charge.”
Richard Belfield is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and award winning film maker. He has written for the Sunday Times and Private Eye and made documentaries for every major UK TV channel as well as Discovery, National Geographic and Al Jazeera. He lives just outside Faversham.