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Residents block Dibden Bay development

A group of local protesters under the name of 'Residents Against Dibden Bay Port' have succeeded in stopping the development of a huge new port on the coast of the New Forest. They were advised by Leigh Day's Human Rights solicitor and judicial review specialist, Richard Stein.

Posted on 28 September 2004

A group of local protesters under the name of Residents Against Dibden Bay Port (RADBP) have succeeded in stopping the development of a huge £600m container terminal and port on the coast of the New Forest. The decision to refuse permission to develop the port on heathland facing Southampton’s docks was announced by the Minister for Transport and is believed to be the first time that a planning inquiry of this type has not gone in favour of the applicant.

A public inquiry into Associated British Ports proposal was held from November 2001 to December 2002 after the Residents Association orchestrated a record number of objections. The planning inspectors report being submitted to the government in October 2003. The RADBP gave evidence against the proposal at the beginning and end of the inquiry.

Their main arguments against the development were:

  1. The environmental damage caused by the site would be huge, supported by English Nature and the RSPB.
  2. The size of the development would blight the lives of thousands and destroy an area the size of 1,600 football pitches.
  3. Other port proposals at Shell Haven, Felixstowe South and Harwich Bathside Bay represent better alternatives for the UK.
  4. Larger ships would not be able to access the port as the channel is not deep enough – dredging would be necessary which would cause further environmental damage.
  5. Transport links are inadequate given that the majority of the goods (64%) would need to be transported north of Birmingham.
  6. The cost of developing the site is more than other proposals and is therefore least likely to succeed.

On the 20th April, the Transport Minister, Tony McNulty, announced that the government agreed with the conclusions of the Dibden Bay public inquiry and would block plans for the terminal. He said: “One important factor in the making of this decision was the environmental impact on internationally protected sites.”

The group were represented by Richard Stein, expert in Judicial Review in the Human Rights department of Leigh Day & Co, who threatened legal action if the government gave the green light to the plans.

Nature Reserve at Dibden Bay

The government’s decision was praised by the Council for National Parks: “It was clear from the outset that you couldn’t pick a more unsuitable location for this development. It has internationally important wildlife sites and would have had a huge impact on what we hope will be the first new National Park for the 21st Century.”

The local residents are now calling for the area to be opened to the public.

Paul Vickers, head of the RADBP, gives his account of the fight:

“The Dibden Bay campaign started in 1997 when Associated British Ports (ABP) made a general announcement of their intention. The Residents Association was the original opposition group formed at that time and became the Public Face of the opposition as well as the overall coordinators of the campaign on behalf of a large number of groups.

“The actual formal application by ABP occurred in October 2000. We orchestrated a record number of objections, which led to an immediate announcement by the Government that there would be a Public Inquiry.

“The Residents organisation had always been a very articulate and professional group (definitely not swampies). We realised that to continue in this manner, at a Public Inquiry, would require an equally professional and credible legal team but preferably from a company that had a track record of dealing with similar situations. It was important that anyone we used had an empathy with what we were doing as opposed to just treating the situation as 'another job’. We were also aware that not many legal firms would be willing to take on a Residents Organisation.

“It was on this basis that we tracked down Leigh Day and were put in touch with Richard Stein. The first meeting took place in my house along with David Wolfe (barrister) of Matrix Chambers. It was important that Richard could see the site and understand what was at stake. Prior to the meeting I had sent Richard a huge amount of background information. At our meeting I was immediately impressed with his understanding of the technicalities of the case. It was clear that the Inquiry was all going to be based on consultants and specialists and that he had a genuine feeling for our position.

“It soon became clear that there were a number of weaknesses in ABP's case, which we could exploit, that no other organisation at the Inquiry would be able to cover (e.g. not part of their remit or constitution). Examples were Financial Viability, The calculated Need, the then narrow view of Alternatives, access channel limitations and Human Rights, the latter being determined by quite complicated laws. We needed a lot of guidance in how to formulate and present evidence to the Inquiry, a role in which Richard and David excelled. We also needed to work in a cost efficient way as the amount of money needed was never going to be easy to raise. Richard fully understood our position and was able to balance the need for thoroughness with our ability to pay i.e. the biggest bang for your money.

“Throughout the preparation period and during the Inquiry, the Residents were on the receiving end of several threatening letters from ABP, or their legal team, claiming we had done something wrong and that we would be liable to a claim from them. This was all part of their scare tactics. Richard easily rose to the situation, made an assessment and sent back an appropriate reply. There was one classic situation where ABP tried to get some of my evidence excluded from the Inquiry. We were able to find a quote on record from the ABP Barrister which, at the time, had been a sarcastic invitation to comment. An appropriate letter went from Richard to the Inquiry Inspector and ABP quietly withdrew their objection.

“Myself, Richard Stein and David Wolfe became a real team throughout the whole event and became good friends in the process. After the Inquiry had finished and fearing a 'Political Decision in favour' we had already started with Richard to prepare a Human Rights claim and a request for a Judicial Review. Richard never lost faith in our ability to win and there always appeared to be another avenue we could follow.

“I believe that Dibden Bay is the first time in the UK that a planning inquiry of this nature has not gone in favour of the applicant. Locally the Residents Organisation has been hailed as the architects of victory, described as a real David versus Goliath. Many people played a part, but none more so than Richard Stein and David Wolfe.”

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