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News > Club News > The Q&A: Hereward Phillpot QC

The Q&A: Hereward Phillpot QC

Eminent barrister and Tonbridge parent, Hereward Phillpot discusses his most challenging cases

6 Feb 2020
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Tonbridge parent, Hereward Phillpot is recognised as one of the leading practitioners at the planning and environmental bar, having successfully promoted and resisted a wide range of infrastructure projects, from Hinkley Point nuclear power station to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Below, he expands on his most challenging cases, why he chose his specialism and what the major issues in the field are today. 
 
Tell us about some of the toughest, or most controversial cases you’ve handled. What were the challenges involved?
 
The Thames Tideway Tunnel (a.k.a. ‘the Super Sewer’, see www.tideway.london) was probably the most controversial Infrastructure project I have promoted, even though the public interest need case for it was overwhelming. The project involved driving a 25km long very large diameter tunnel all the way from Acton in West London to Beckton in the East, intercepting a series of combined sewer overflows along the Thames which currently discharge untreated raw sewage into the river whenever it rains.

It required the compulsory purchase and use of a series of large construction sites, and in particular sites from which to launch the tunnel boring machines and remove tunnelling spoil, in the heart of the city. There is little in the way of spare open land in the centre of London, and so it was often necessary to use parks and public open space close to residential properties for a use that would generate a good deal of noise and disturbance, in some cases for a considerable period of time.

Seeking powers to drive a major tunnel underneath historic bridges and buildings, in and around the other tunnels and infrastructure that lies beneath London (and in close proximity to MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Bridge) will also always generate concerns and controversy, and we faced fierce opposition (and a number of legal challenges) from a combination of local authorities, activist groups, private landowners and individuals whose interests would be affected.
It was ultimately approved, and is now being built.   
 
Hinkley Point is a case that divides people for many reasons, not least, the national security implications of Chinese involvement in critical UK infrastructure. What would you say to critics of the scheme?
 
The main advantages of nuclear power lie in the absence of any significant carbon emissions once operational, and security of energy supply. Hinkley Point C alone will generate approximately 7% of the country’s electricity needs, and will allow for a reduction in the extent to which we rely on coal and gas for the generation of our electricity. I was also pleasantly surprised to find how relatively uncontroversial the project was at local level. Although local people and the local authorities had understandable concerns about the construction impacts, there was very little objection to the principle of the development. In part, I suspect that is because nuclear power stations do not generate much noise, traffic or other activity once they have been built, and their visual appearance gives rise to fewer objections than, say, wind turbines. 
 
Out of all the topics you could have specialised in, why did you choose to focus on planning and the environment?
 
I find the highly political nature of the work inherently interesting, because so much of it involves competing public interest considerations such as environmental protection and the need for economic growth etc. I was also attracted to the idea of getting involved in cases that would make a big difference to so many people. Some of the major infrastructure projects I promote will provide employment for thousands of people and help to address pressing national issues. Planning and environmental law is a branch of public law, and when legal issues arise they are addressed through judicial review. I have always found that area of law to be very intellectually stimulating, because it concerns the regulation of the powers of public authorities in their interaction with each other and with private individuals. As the recent high profile Brexit judicial review cases have shown, this can have significant political ramifications.
 
What are some of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on and why?
 
The Thames Tideway Tunnel project was particularly rewarding. I had the opportunity to work with some very talented lawyers and a team of brilliant experts in various disciplines, from engineers to archaeologists and ecologists, and to play my part in helping to bring an end to a truly lamentable environmental problem in the heart of London. 
 
For contrast, what is the largest scale project you’ve been involved in and what is the smallest?
 
Hinkley Point C is a truly enormous project, with thousands of people employed on site in constructing it over a period of about 7 years. By contrast, I have recently helped a client obtain planning permission for a single house in the countryside. It was a large and rather special house …
 
What do you see as the major issues or trends in the field today?
 
I think that climate change is becoming an increasingly important issue in planning, both in setting planning policy and increasingly in making individual development control decisions. It is a key area where the balance is struck between society’s need for homes, employment, energy etc. and the need to take action to reduce emissions. 
 

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