Ecology Director Alistair Baxter has achieved a first for Aspect Ecology – presenting evidence as an expert witness at a virtual public inquiry. As a result of Covid 19 restrictions, face to face public inquiries are currently on hold, with new technology instead being employed by the Planning Inspectorate to keep the appeals system moving.
Alistair reports that the process worked surprisingly well. The Inquiry itself was conducted over a MS Teams video link hosted by the Inspectorate, while Alistair kept in touch with the wider professional team and our QC via a Zoom video link in breaks and via the WhatsApp desktop application during the inquiry session. Our office internet band width was plenty able to cope with the demands of video conferencing, while the absence of face to face meetings in general, meant our meeting rooms were vacant and Alistair was able to take over our board room for the duration of the whole inquiry.
The case involved an allocated site in Milton Keynes which includes a small area of the Priority Habitat lowland meadow. Ecological issues centred on the application of the mitigation hierarchy and the provision of compensation, calculated using a metric. The latter is required by local policy, which is a precursor to how all sites will need to be addressed nationally once the Environment Bill passes.
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