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Radley Lakes Public Inquiry Gets Underway

Day 1: Monday: The Public Inquiry into the future of the Radley Lakes got underway today at Radley College. The Inquiry, chaired by Mr Vivian Chapman QC, is to determine whether Thrupp and Bullfield Lakes, at Radley, should be registered as a Town Green under the Commons Registration Act 1965. If so registered, the Lakes will be saved from destruction by RWE npower, owners of Didcot Power Station, who believe they are only fit for use as an ash dump.

Public and press packed the New Pavilion at Radley College to hear the opening remarks of Counsels from both sides. Mr Philip Petchey, speaking for the applicant, said

 

“The merits of RWE npower’s proposals are not a matter for this inquiry. However the nature interest of this site and its beauty are relevant. It is because of these things that people go there.

 

This local case has become one of National prominence. This is because local people care so much about the Lakes. But if you ask the question Why? the answer must start with the fact that they actually go there. If they go there, it is to do things that will make the lakes registrable as a Town Green.”

Mr Charles Mynors, for the objectors, RWE npower, and the other affected landowners, Mr John Curtis and Mr Charles Dockar-Drysdale, said he would show that any use of the lakes was by force, subterfuge or with permission, and that the testimony of the Landowners, particularly that of Mr Dockar-Drysdale, would show this. He went on to say

 

“I think, over the years, people’s memories may have been coloured as to what activities actually took place on the lake.”

a statement which drew an indignant response from the audience.

The inquiry then heard from the applicant, Mrs Jo Cartmell, who gave a very eloquent and moving address as to why the Lakes were so important to her, and to other people, and why The Lakes should be registered. She then had to answer many questions under cross examination from both sides, against which she held up admirably.

After a brief break for lunch, the inquiry then heard from several other witnesses who claimed to have used the lakes to various degrees at various times over the 20 year period. Witnesses were consistently questioned about the routes they used to get to the Lakes; exactly how they accessed the land; what parts of the land they visited; what activities they engaged in while there; what activities (fishing and swimming in particular) they observed other people engaging in; what activities by previous owners of the Lake and the house they had witnessed; and the past state of fences and gates etc. Witnesses were also questioned about specific past events: the draining of Thrupp Lake in 1991 and the occupation of the West Bullfield area by contractors in 2002.

By the end of the day, despite an evening session lasting until past 8pm, the inquiry was making slow progress, with witness statements and cross examinations taking twice as long as had been timetabled for. As a result the inquiry looks in danger of overrunning past the end of the week. if this occurs, it will necessitate an adjournment well into the summer.

Watch this space…

 

[update 03/04/2007]

Day 2: Tuesday: Today, the public inquiry continued to hear evidence from witnesses for the applicant. A number of key witnesses gave evidence and were questioned about their usage of the land (see above). A key witness of the day was Mr Roger Thomas, who was in the hot seat for over two hours giving evidence, not only about his personal use of the Lakes, but also the constitution and history of the communities in which the users of the lakes predominantly live.

Other witnesses heard today included local Town and County Councillor, Lesley Legge, who gave evidence on behalf of the community that she represents, and Dr Basil Crowley, who presented an account, from his perspective as Chairman of Save Radley Lakes, of the community involvement in the campaign to save the lakes. Dr Crowley concluded this part of his evidence with the following words:

“The people of this community have demonstrated as clearly as they can, by peaceful means, that they do not wish these lakes to be destroyed. After being let down time and again by government, people are now looking to this legislation as the means of getting recognition of their wishes and justice for the Radley Lakes.”

He also presented a series of photographs taken at various points all around both lakes. These photographs showed both the landscape views visible from these points and some of the interesting wildlife found there, underlining the value of the lakes for their natural beauty and for the wildlife found there. (These photographs are on display at the inquiry venue for its duration.)

The inquiry timetable continues to suffer slippage, so that, unless there is a significant acceleration of the proceedings (unlikely) an adjournment to late June, to conclude the proceedings, now looks likely. Indeed, provisional dates have already been agreed.

 

 

[update 04/04/2007]

Day 3: Wednesday: The hearing of evidence from witnesses for the applicant continues.

A further 9 witnesses gave evidence today, beginning with a local ecologist, who has spent many years studying wildlife at the lakes. He was interrogated for 3 hours, by far the longest session endured by a single witness yet. However this was largely due to the witness’s own innate tendency to elaborate or qualify each answer to every question put. Nevertheless this did not deter the two opposing barristers from nit picking every scrap of useful information, and more besides, from the poor victim’s brain. Nevertheless the intrepid ecologist, a Dr Bob Eeles, who had prowled over the entire area of the lakes, looking for moths and things, since he was a child, was undaunted: He said that the recent tree felling around Thrupp Lake would not lead to a prolonged loss of biodiversity. If the Village Green became a reality, there would be a number of local conservationists who could offer time and expertise to ensure speedy restoration.

The inquiry also heard from a fisherman who had fished the northern lake for nearly 20 years (when there were fish in it) without any formal permission and without any landlord noticing that he was doing so, and informing him of such.

Town Mayor, Peter Green, who, unfettered by his chains of office on this occasion, relayed the concerns of his constituents for whom the Radley Lakes were among the top two issues of the moment (the other being the Town Centre traffic). He said, of the Thrupp and Bullfield Lakes, that the area is a popular amenity for the residents of Abingdon and the surrounding areas and should be protected. He referred to several resolutions of the Town Council, all passed either unanimously or nem con, opposing npower’s plans for the lakes and supporting the campaign to save them.

Andy Boddington, Campaign Manager of the Oxfordshire CPRE, said that the Radley Lakes landscape has been adopted by the local community. Whatever the merits of the various technical objections to the planning proposal, this fact alone provides an overwhelming case to preserve them. This is why the CPRE are fully supporting the campaign.

With at least 9 further witnesses, even before the objectors get a look in, the proceedings will be forced to adjourn at the end of Thursday afternoon, and will resume on 20th June when they will resume for a further 3 days.

 

[update 05/04/2007, 06/04/2007]

Day 4: Thursday: This was supposed to be the final day. TV cameramen even turned up to witness the finale, only to be informed that the inquiry would unceremoniously be adjourned for several months at the end of the day’s sessions.

Today, the inquiry heard from a physiotherapist, a bird watcher, a retired headmaster, a retired schoolteacher, and a retired civil servant, all of whom presented evidence for the applicant. Like those before them, they were questioned in detail over routes, access points, whether gates were open or shut or even existed at all, bits of barbed wire, holes in hedges, puddles, pools, muddy patches, how many fishermen and exactly where they sat, details of activities like swimming, boating, even stone throwing, and where and when it is all supposed to have happened.

Mrs Karen Hughes was the first witness to be heard today. She gave a clear account of her 20 years use of the lakes and how, until 2001, she had led parties of Boy Scout Cubs down to The Lakes for nature studies and badge work, which included wildlife recognition , field work observational skills and surveying. She pointed out how important this had been to the children and their families.

Another witness, Mr David Price, who had been a user of The Lakes since the 1970s, remarked that he had given up visiting the lakes in recent times because he was in despair over the environmental vandalism that he witnessed occurring on the wider site over the years.

However the highlight of the day, if one can call it that, was the exchange that occurred between the two sides just after lunch. Mr Petchey, counsel for the applicant, asked if  npower would be able to say that they will not resume work before the conclusion of the inquiry? Charles Mynors , acting for npower, replied:

“That matter is not for this inquiry. Npower, although a corporate body, is composed of human beings… and understands how people feel. It will consider its position and make a decision in the fullness of time.”

He went on to say

“It [npower] is concerned about the length of the inquiry and the constant stream of new witnesses. We don’t want to lose the next three days is a similar way. There has to come a point when we move on.”

The inspector responded by pointing out that the issue was one of some complexity and that there had not, in fact, been not many more witnesses, but that it had taken longer to deal with each one. He said it would be dangerous to exclude evidence without due cause. There may come a time to call a halt, but he did not think that that time had yet come. He was however concerned that three more days would not be enough.

All parties indicated that they would be agreeable to proceeding by written submissions to try to speed things up. However Mr Petchey indicated that he still had, at this time, 10 or more further witnesses, and that there was a danger of overrunning the 3 days. Mr Chapman said he could provisionally fix further days, and Mr Mynors agreed that this would be prudent.

Further days were accordingly set aside in the week beginning 10th September.

At the end of the afternoon the inquiry was adjourned until 11.00am on Wednesday 20th June at a place to be notified.

 
 

Other links relevant to this posting

www.saveradleylakes.org.uk

Herald 28/03/07

Herald 03/04/07

Herald 05/04/07

Oxford Mail 30/03/07

Oxford Mail 02/04/07

Oxford Mail 04/04/07

Oxford Mail 05/04/07

Oxford Mail 06/04/07

Oxford Mail 09/04/2007

Oxford Times 06/04/07

BBC Oxford 02/04/07

CPRE

CPRE Campaign Briefing 17 April 2007

The Radley Swan

Session 2 Proceedings

 

 

[Update 06/04/2007]

Summary of Proceedings

Inspector   Mr Vivian Chapman QC
Counsel for the Applicant   Mr Philip Petchey
Counsel for the Objectors   Mr Charles Mynors
Venue   The New Pavilion, Radley College, 2 – 5 April 2007

Over the 4 days, the inquiry heard evidence from applicant, Mrs Jo Cartmell, and a further 26 witnesses as follows:

Monday, 2 April

Jo Cartmell

  Alison Prewett
  Philip Prewett
  Caroline Bullock
  Steve Betts
  Terence Green
Tuesday, 3 April Gerald Kendall
  Godfrey Jones
  Roger Thomas
  Basil Crowley
  Robert Halsey
  Christopher Jones
  Lesley Legge
Wednesday, 4 April Robert Eeles
  Peter Green
  Rachel Everett
  John Orchard
  Marion Orchard
  Andrew Boddington
  Philip North
  Paul Cook
  Marguerite Osborne
Thursday, 5 April Karen Hughes
  Barry Stayte
  Roger Stephens
  Johanna Taylor
  David Price

The average time spent “in the chair” by each witness was about 1 hour. There are approximately 10 more witnesses waiting to be heard.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.radleyvillage.org.uk/radley-lakes-public-inquiry-gets-underway/