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Law students support villagers in fight against proposed incinerator

Law students from the University of Exeter are assisting a town in Devon to fight a planning appeal to turn their local quarry in Buckfastleigh into a waste processing facility and infill site.

A planning application was initially turned down by Devon County Council in April 2012 however the companies involved decided to appeal. After concerns that the plant will lead to the impact of 200 lorry movements a day, high levels of noise and dust, plus the negative effects on health and well-being, the people of Buckfastleigh created a campaign group. They raised significant funds for legal assistance, a specialist lawyer and technical experts to produce reports on ecology, hydrology and the impact on the bat population. The planning appeal is currently in the last few weeks of the inquiry.

Five Law students (Hannah Cameron, Chirag Patel, Kate Harding, Chris Kientzler, David Kanhai) are working as note-takers and giving general assistance to the barristers and campaigners throughout the inquiry. In a legal inquiry, recording is forbidden, however note taking is allowed and provides a useful way to review what is being said by witnesses and the opposing legal team. The student’s legal notes are used by the barrister and legal team to challenge or refine points and help them to examine the evidence given throughout the inquiry. The information has also been used in the Buckfastleigh Community Forum Blog enabling members of the group and wider public to follow the progress of the case as it unfolds.

The Buckfastleigh campaigners and legal team have found the student’s involvement invaluable in supporting and assisting the case.  Kathryn Hughes, member of the Buckfastleigh Community Forum said: ”The support of the students has been essential to the planning appeal, their skill and expertise in taking notes from quick fire oral legalise commentary has been extremely helpful.  Within our community we don’t necessarily have all the skills or time to attend a four week inquiry as many of us work or have family commitments.  The students’ abilities in providing this legal service has kept us informed and enabled our legal team to have reference material, via their legal notes.”

The proceedings are often fast paced and have been quite a significant learning experience for many of the students involved. It has been an intense experience as the students have also been housed and fed by the local community, so they are living, eating and breathing the planning inquiry. Hannah Cameron a 2ndyear LLB student said of the experience: ”It’s been a completely different way of learning outside the class room and attending an actual planning inquiry in real time is both exciting and exhausting as you have to be sharp in order to capture all that is being said and ensure accuracy. Watching how people are cross examined and the response from witnesses as well as the barristers is fascinating as it brings to life areas of our academic study and reminds me why I choose law as a career route.”

She added:”We feel so fortunate to have been fully embraced by this passionate community, to share in this experience and provide support for a cause that is so personal to all involved and for the environment and generations to come.”

The link with the University of Exeter was originally set up as a result of a connection through representatives of the 'Voices of the Earth' network, Isabel Carlisle and Mothiur Rahman. They contacted Dr Lucy Finchett-Maddock running one of the environmental law modules, to raise awareness of the plight of Buckfastleigh after the planning proposal submitted by Sam Gilpin Demolition Ltd and MVV. According to ‘Voices of the Earth’, this is a potential test-case for a small-scale 'ecocide' if the company's appeal is successful.

Finchett-Maddock said: “It is great to be able to put the skills which the students learn in the classroom into a real planning inquiry.  In addition to the possibility of being able to positively influence the outcome of the inquiry as a result their involvement in legal note taking. I am extremely proud of the way in which the students have conducted themselves and have no doubt that this will have a huge impact on the way they progress in their legal careers.”

She added: ”It really helps Buckfastleigh’s case if people come and show their opposition to this proposed plan, which so many have been doing.  The community would welcome anyone to come and support with open arms as this is a crucial stage of the inquiry.”

Date: 15 July 2013