Put on hold harbour enquiry

PUBLISHED: 02:01 28 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:23 10 June 2010

If the public inquiry into the new harbour authority for the Exe estuary proceeds, it is likely that it will be open to legal challenge since Exeter City Council (ECC) will knowingly be forced to give evidence on the basis of an untruth. The minutes of t

If the public inquiry into the new harbour authority for the Exe estuary proceeds, it is likely that it will be open to legal challenge since Exeter City Council (ECC) will knowingly be forced to give evidence on the basis of an untruth. The minutes of the pre-inquiry meeting record:"Mr Payne believed that future legislation will change the way in which the Exe is administered. "Mr Luck (the inspector) explained that the content of future legislation cannot be predicted; inspectors have to consider and report on how matters stand at the time of the inquiry. Mr Kathro objected strongly to this and felt legislators do not always take into account the considerations of other bodies. "Mr Luck said that his director had spoken to the Boundary Committee and a draft report on Devon is due to be issued on July 7, with a 12-week consultation period for representations to be made. "Final recommendations will be given to the secretary of state (SoS) by the end of the year. There will always be a changing scene and the SoS will consider those at the time. Further details can be obtained from www.statistics.gov.uk/pbc. "Mr Luck explained that the outcome of the Boundary Committee review is unknown and he was not prepared to delay the start of the Inquiry again." The Boundary Committee have now presented their draft report. The case for Exeter City Council to become a unitary authority in its own right has been rejected.The preliminary report of the Boundary Commission has recommended that a unitary structure should be implemented that will encompass the whole of the Exe Estuary.In its statement of reasons already presented to the public inquiry, ECC state that one of their core reasons for requiring the revision is that:"Almost all of the estuary lies outside ECC's jurisdictional area as a local authority. The current harbour authority (ECC) is therefore remote, and comprises 40 councillors whose principal concerns must be for those who live and work in the city itself." The final report on the creation of a New Harbour Authority July 2002 stated:"There are considerable advantages in vesting the powers of the new harbour authority in local authorities. Local authorities can provide continuity for the new harbour authority and provide an appropriate body for the ownership of public assets (such as quays and jetties). "Local authorities are engaged in related activities for the Exe Estuary such as the promotion of tourism, transport, the enforcement of byelaws, the wardening of nature reserves, beach patrols and so forth. Lastly, local authorities may offer considerable support to organisations from their in-house expertise and resources."One option considered was a municipal port with equal responsibility between Exeter City Council, East Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council. It was rejected on the basis that "it may be difficult for a municipal port backed by three or four different local authorities to act efficiently".It is now clear that the reasons already given to the public inquiry for the revision order to proceed are now invalid.The law of natural justice would suggest that ECC should not be forced to give evidence which they now know to be incorrect.When the unitary authority is established, a better solution may be to implement the recommendations contained in the Department of Transport's Municipal Ports Review, by creating the harbour authority as a committee of the council. I have been gathering evidence that this option has not been considered by ECC. It will be totally appropriate for a unitary authority who have jurisdiction over the whole of the Exe Estuary.There is no local demand for the Harbour Revision Order. There are no immediate pressing concerns that require its instant creation.The inspector is in a difficult position since he must look at the evidence as it stands at the moment. We now know that a unitary structure covering the whole of the Exe estuary is certain, so common sense tells us that this is a crucial element for the inquiry's consideration.The public inquiry should be delayed until after the final Boundary Commission Report has been finalised so that all the evidence may be properly considered. I hope that this sensible approach is taken so that unnecessary legal expenses are not inflicted on Exeter council tax payers.Colin Broady,5a Oakleigh Road, Exmouth.

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