A community councillor who took the UK Government to the United Nations over the building of wind farms has accused civil servants of attempting to gag campaigners.
Christine Metcalfe, 69, went to the UN on behalf of Avich-Kilchrenan Community Council in Argyll, after failing with a complaint to the Scottish Government about the building of the Carraig Gheal wind farm near her home in Taynuilt – an area of great beauty and a nesting site for golden eagles.
With the case due to be discussed again at the end of this month by the international tribunal, it has emerged UK civil servants have attempted to use a technical point which would stop others following her lead.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) wrote to the UN after Mrs Metcalfe’s case was heard in Geneva in December last year.
Defra cast doubt on the status of Scottish community councils, saying they might be considered public authorities which would exclude them from bringing a complaint.
However, campaigners claim the move is strange as the Scottish Government, which is responsible for the remit of community councils, states they are not public authorities.
Mrs Metcalfe complained to the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) the UK and European Union breached the Aarhus Convention, under which the public must be given reliable and transparent information on environmental matters, and sufficient participation in decision-making. Her complaint relates to both the Carraig Gheal wind farm and to claims made within renewable energy policy.
But in what campaigners believe is a bid to prevent similar complaints, Defra has attempted to persuade the UN not to treat the case as being made by a community councillor. Instead, officials suggest it should be treated as coming from a member of the public.
Defra told the UN committee: “The general purpose of com-munity councils is to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents. Given the role played by community councils – there are arguments against considering them to be public authorities for the purpose of the convention.
“We respectfully suggest it may be helpful to consider the communicant to be Mrs Metcalfe in person.”
Mrs Metcalfe said if UNECE accepts Defra’s position and stops community councils making complaints, it would restrict the ability of the public to raise objections.
She said: “It’s extremely important community councils can make complaints.
“It’s easier for governments to ignore an individual, pass him or her from pillar to post or fob them off. Community councils have to be answered.”
Linda Holt, spokeswoman for the anti-wind farm group Scotland Against Spin, said it was strange Defra had not received clarification from the Scottish Government.
She added: “The fact the UK Government is casting doubt over the status of community councils when the Scottish Government is clear they are not public authorities seems to show an astounding lack of communication between the two.
“Maybe the UK Government is trying to muddy the waters so the UN doesn’t accept community councils as complainants, but it does smack of desperation.”
But Defra said: “To make sure there could not be any obstruction to Mrs Metcalfe’s complaint we suggested that an individual was making it rather than there being any confusion over whether the community council is classed as a public body.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said community councils were not public authorities but declined to comment because of the legal process.
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