A CONSORTIUM of 11 local authorities fighting plans for a fifth terminal at Heathrow Airport this week threw the public inquiry into disarray by withdrawing its legal representation.
The inquiry - now the longest on record - entered its third year last week. Inspector Roy Vandermeer had hoped to conclude the proceedings in October this year but consultants working for the consortium said that this now looked unlikely.
Vandermeer is understood to have told the authorities that he would find it difficult to close the inquiry if they do not sum up. But a spokesman from the inquiry secretariat would say only: 'The inspector will need to explore how to proceed nearer to the time'.
Surrey County Council environment department policy co-ordinator David Lamb claimed the consortium had not pulled out of the inquiry altogether but added: 'We are not proposing to make final submissions because the inspector has already heard our position in the summaries at the end of each topic. It is simply a matter of running out of resources.'
So far BAA is rumoured to have spent around £100M on the inquiry compared to only £4M from the local authorities. The inquiry was initially expected to last 18 months with phase one of the Terminal 5 planned for completion in 2000.
A spokeswoman for BAA threw off claims that it had used 'attrition' tactics. 'The local authorities say they have run out of money but actually they have two or three times the spending capacity of BAA,' she said. 'They have just changed their priorities because the locals have got fed up with their council tax being spent on a battle they don't believe in.'