A ruling with force in international law that will reverberate across the UK, has been born from a successful challenge to the UK government’s procedure in planning and consenting wind farms.
This will see the government bound to make significant changes in the role of the public in policymaking and consents in renewable energy development – and in the provision of information to which we are legally entitled.
The Geneva-based United Nations Economic Council Europe [UNECE] found that the UK was in breach of Article 7 of the Aarhus Concention, to which it is a signatory.
The challenge was brought by Christine Metcalfe of Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council on Loch Aweside, a markedly evidence-based campaigner against wind energy – and a determined one, prepared to play the long game.
She has already, through the gathering of evidence and public support, prevented the installation of a wind farm in Inverliever Forest; and Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council represents an area that has suffered substantially in the delivery of the Carraig Gheal wind farm, which they had opposed.
Her presentation of the case to UNECE has been successful with the legal tribunal ruling that the UK Government ‘s actions on wind farms were illegal on two counts:
- denying the public decision-making [Ed: our emphasis] powers in approval of wind farms
- denying the public the necessary information [Ed: our emphasis] on the benefits and negatives effects of wind power.
If UK policy and procedure remais as it is, this ruling now calls into question its legality in any more consents for on or offshore wind farms.
The ruling has come at a time of dissent on wind energy within the UK government. Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has commissioned a study on the impact on countryside and house prices of wind farms. But officials in the office of the Lib Dem Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, are said to have tried to stop the study.
In its ruling, UNECE also recommended that in future the UK must submit to public participation – not just consultation – all plans and implementation programmes like the National Renewable Energy Action Plan.
The foundation for the ruloing and the additional recommendation is the application of Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention whose authority Christine Metcalfe had argued before the Commission.
Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention requires full and effective public participation on all environmental issues and gives citizens the rights of participation.
With a growing body of research to support claims that the infrasound created by wind turbines has serious consequences for public health , in addition to the environmental damage they cause, this UN ruling calls the UK Government to account and empowers campaigners against wind farms.
The ruling must also give pause to and bring reform to the Scottish Government’s gold-rush gung-ho approach to wind energy.
That is a long needed curb on what has been an irresponsible, undemocratic, politically motivated push for wind at all costs that has npt been prepared to consider – or share – the evidence behind well found concerns.
The Geneva ruling is seen in legal circles as being pivotal in bringing change tothe development of eind energy across the UK.
The Independent quotes environmental lawyer, David Hart, QC,, as saying: ‘This ruling means that consents and permissions for further wind-farm developments in Scotland and the UK are liable to challenge on the grounds that the necessary policy preliminaries have not been complied with and that, in effect, the public has been denied the chance to consider and contribute to the NREAP [National Renewable Energy Action Plan]‘:
A victorious but not triumphalist Christine Metcalfe has said: ‘ The Government needs to do more than just give ordinary people the right to comment on planning applications. They deserve to be given all the facts.’
The UNECE ruling underlines the absolute obligation of government ‘s participating in the Aarhus Convention, as is the UK, to deliver this access to information and participation in deecision taking in environmental issues across the spectrum.
Its impact will be felt in the development of all forms of renewable and non-renewable energies – and must also reverberate in the way the Scottish government and local authorities ‘manage’ the envirnonmentl conduct of the aquaculture sector.
The precise aim of Christine Metcalfe’s challenge will have a broader effect on the government’s inclusion of of the public and servicing with information in all matters relating to the environment, courtesy of her now confirmed reading of the intentions of the helpful Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention.
The Aarhus Convention and its applications
The Aarhus Convention’s full title is: ‘The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’.
This neatly encompasses its purposes and its reach. It is short-named ‘the Aarhus Convention’ because it was signed in Aarhus in Denmark on 25 June 1998.
The European Commission’s webpage on the Aarhus Convention says:
‘The Aarhus Convention establishes a number of rights of the public (individuals and their associations) with regard to the environment. The Parties to the Convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities (at national, regional or local level) will contribute to these rights to become effective. The Convention provides for:
- the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities (“access to environmental information“). This can include information on the state of the environment, but also on policies or measures taken, or on the state of human health and safety where this can be affected by the state of the environment. Applicants are entitled to obtain this information within one month of the request and without having to say why they require it. In addition, public authorities are obliged, under the Convention, to actively disseminate environmental information in their possession;
- the right to participate in environmental decision-making. Arrangements are to be made by public authorities to enable the public affected and environmental non-governmental organisations to comment on, for example, proposals for projects affecting the environment, or plans and programmes relating to the environment, these comments to be taken into due account in decision-making, and information to be provided on the final decisions and the reasons for it (“public participation in environmental decision-making“);
- the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general (“access to justice“).’