A PUBLIC inquiry into P&O and Shell's £650 million regeneration plans for the London Gateway site on the banks of the river Thames started on Tuesday.
The former Shell Haven oil refinery site will be transformed into a logistics and commercial centre and a port capable of handling 3.5 million containers a year.
Backers of the scheme hope it will form a major part of the Government's Thames Gateway Initiative to regenerate land alongside the river.
The public inquiry is expected to last until August and P&O and Shell are looking to start construction by the end of next year.
The inquiry has been prompted by local residents who are worried about the increase in the volume of traffic and English Nature which fears the environmental consequences of developing the brownfield site.
Shell Europe's senior development manager, Andy Wisner, said: 'Shell and P&O remain confident of a successful approval process and look forward to starting work in 2004.
'This has been one of the largest brownfield site preparation programmes in Europe.
'In the past two years, Shell has removed 80,000 tonnes of steel, yet at the same time less than 5 per cent of the site surface soil has required treatment.'