20th July – Day 1: Opening Statements

When a Public Inquiry is 40 days long very few are going to watch all of it. 

To catch the gist you could do worse than to line up recordings of the 20th and the first hour of the 21st. See below:

Tues 20th am

Tues 20th pm

Weds 21st am

You can hear the opening statements of the key parties of the inquiry; the ‘Appellant’ (that’s the airport,) the opposing North Somerset Council (whose planning decision is being questioned) and the various other Rule 6 Parties who have a range of reasons why the appeal should be dismissed.

These are densely packed accounts of the main arguments that each party means to present and it shows the thrust of arguments and the key issues at dispute.. Take it in bite sized chunks…actually listening all at once was pretty full on!

It is only day 1 and the Inquiry schedule has already slipped…in part because of technicalities which took a bit of time to thrash out but at least in part because Appellant’s QC took up twice the time he originally requested (2 hours instead of 1) and presented for the first time a carefully annotated 85 page document to accompany his opening statement .He said he wouldn’t read it out because it would take three and a half hours…. but then he did read much of it; it began to feel like filibustering. He appeared to over-explain things with a sort of ‘we all know this’ attitude, and in a number of subtle ways tried to imply he had the higher ground in the argument and somehow of higher status (watch the first sentence reference to chatting with the High Court Judge yesterday…)

His points were soon deflated somewhat by the calm, almost laid back delivery of the QC for North Somerset. He spoke for nearly an hour and a half (time extended to incorporate responses to the Appellant’s statement) and had an answer for every complaint raised.

So at this point a renegotiation of time had to happen. But this is what happens at inquiries. Some Counsel are crisp clear and get straight to the point and others seem to ooze out into extra time and inspectors are loath to curtail them. And it is public comment that can get squeezed.

Witness Estelle Dehon the Barrister for BAAN as a brilliant example of the former style. Her 35 minute speech packed in some weighty punches but also illustrated on a human scale. Did you know that Weston Super Mare is now forecast to be below sea level by 2050 because of climate change? ‘This decision couldn’t be more locally or nationally important’, she said. She dismantled the airport’s opening case as  wrong ‘in law’. Ouch! Burn ..🔥🔥🔥

Meanwhile, outside fabulous theatre from XR and fantastic interviews made the appeal the top story on BBC Radio Bristol, ITN/BBC TV news & local papers. Well done all…back again tomorrow.  One down … 39 to go!

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