Published: 16:27, 23 December 2009
| Updated: 16:27, 23 December 2009
The final round of the fight to stop a giant freight depot being built at Bearsted has come to an end.
In closing the public inquiry into the Kent International Gateway scheme, Inspector Andrew Phillipson said he had "never seen" such public interest in an inquiry from start to finish.
"To have more than 20 people here the day before Christmas Eve says something about the degree of commitment" he said.
More than 9000 people joined the campaign group StopKIG, who were just one of nine bodies - including Campaign to Protect Rural England, Kent County Council, and the 14 parish strong Joint Parishes Group - that lined up to attack the KIG scheme in their closing submissions.
Small wonder there was a good supply of painkillers visible in the KIG's on-site office at Kent House, Maidstone - the team behind the plan have had to endure a constant barrage of arguments vilifying the freight depot plan.
The final day of the inquiry brought closing submissions from the two main heavyweight players in the battle for Bearsted - Maidstone council and KIG itself.
The council's barrister Timothy Corner QC said the main arguments for KIG - that it will transfer freight from road to rail and save carbon emissions - were fatally flawed.
KIG's own calculations for the carbon saving offered by the depot would be a maximum of 12,000 tonnes per annum, he said, which was minimal if compared with that claimed by haulage firm Eddie Stobart, who say their single train from Valencia to Barking saves 8,625 tonnes per year.
In addition he said this calculation ignores other CO2 implications, such as the number of workers who would be driving daily to the site.
Furthermore he said a survey of freight operators had showed there was "no interest in operating a National Distribution Centre" at the site. Industry surveys had shown Kent to be second to last in attractiveness for distribution centres.
"The KIG CO2 case has been shown to be fundamentally flawed" he said. "However, even if it were not, it is based on the assumption that two thirds of the site is occupied by NDCs, an assumption which itself has been shown to be unfounded. In those circumstances the KIG case fails entirely."
Mr Corner QC went on to make KIG's attempts to play down the physical and visual impact of the depot sound ridiculous. He said KIG, the size of Bearsted itself, would compromise "urban sprawl" adding "in reality the existing topography and landscape will be destroyed."
And he pointed to evidence from Kent Police, who "tellingly" put forward witnesses at the KIG inquiry. The terrorist risk to KIG was "high" they had said, while footpaths crossing site made "hostile pedestrian reconnaissance" easy.
In summary Mr Corner QC said the entire basis for KIG had been shown to be "a fantasy", and that the planners had failed to investigate the possibility of better sites.
He added: "Its consultants gravely underestimated the damage KIG would bring.
"This is a highly damaging proposal for which no justification has been established. This appeal should be dismissed."
His arguments brought an end to the council's closing submissions which took up an impressive 130 sides of A4. However, at least they were double-sided pages, in contrast the KIG's document of 90 pages printed on one side only.
In their closing submissions, KIG said it did not need to prove the case for the depot.
Mr Christopher Katkowski QC said there was "no requirement placed upon the appellants to prove their case in any particular matter."
Instead he said the fact that government policy called for more Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges was enough in itself to show the KIG plan was justified.
Neither was there any legal requirement for KIG to prove their site was the best site for an SRFI, he said. In defending the modest carbon-emission benefits of KIG, he said it was "better to take a series of smaller realistic steps, than to forego doing so while we wait for some bigger, but unrealistic step to be taken".He even took recourse to the literature of the French Enlightenment, adding: "Voltaire's 'the perfect is the enemy of the good' springs to mind."
"There is a policy need for up to three such sites in the South East region and to date there are none" he said, adding: "the task in hand is not to search for the mythical single best site."
However, he did say that it "seemed odd" to imply it was an inappropriate site.
The M20 would continue to attract HGVs. The motorway was a major - if not the major - trade artery, and "one of the key corridors used by international freight flows" he said.
Arguing against the terrorism threat he argued that the danger of a bombing remained with or without KIG. "A similar effect could be achieved by an HGV detonating itself on the hard shoulder of the M20," he said.
In summary Mr Katkowski said "The stakes are high for those who object so determinedly to the proposal but so too are the stakes high for the delivery of the priority given to tackling climate change and the clearly identified policy need to transfer freight from road to rail.
"Those charged with their delivery must ensure that the hurdles put in the appellants' way are not set so high that these policy imperatives become pointless words."
Now opponents face three months of waiting while inspector Andrew Phillipson weighs up the arguments he has heard over the last two months and decides whether the 285-acre road and rail depot can be built.