In a David and Goliath confrontation, the community council for the little Avich and Kilchrenan [AKCC] townships on Loch Aweside, has taken its complaint about proliferation of windfarms in Argyll to Geneva, to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
The Community Council invoked the Aarhus Convention, prepared under the auspices of the UN and adopted into British and EU law.
Both the UK (and therefore Scotland) and the EU are fully signed up to the Treaty, which:
- gives rights to citizens to have access to environmental information;
- places duties on Governments to make this information available in such a form that citizens can make use of it – while all options are open for projects affecting the environment.
Part of the justification for wind farms is that they save harmful emissions of CO2 and other pollutants from the generation of electricity.
The numbers produced in that connection were challenged by the AKCC at the time of the Carraig Gheal and Western Argyll Timber Haulage Route applications, but the challenges were ignored.
Mrs Christine Metcalfe, a Community Councillor from Loch Avich near Loch Awe – on a road that is one of Argyll’s hidden treasures – discovered that complaints about apparent breaches of the Convention could be brought before the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Åarhus Compliance Committee.
In her ‘Communication’ to that Committee, Mrs Metcalfe made the point that the windfarm and roads projects had been brought forward and had received consent without there having been any examination of the ‘carbon savings’ to see if they existed, were worthwhile, or could be achieved in other less intrusive ways.
Both the windfarm and the road were said to have significant environmental disadvantages.
Assisted by a technical adviser and counsel, Mrs Metcalfe took her concerns directly to the heart of the UN in Geneva on Wednesday 12th Deccmber.
in more than four hours of vigorous debate, the issues were discussed in a non-adversarial forum, with Committee members from a number of EU countries, led by the Dean of Law of Stockholm University, Dr Jonas
Ebbesson, and Dr Ellen Hey of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
Both the UK Government and the EU were represented by counsel and officials.
After deliberation, the Compliance Committee recalled parties and set a number of questions to be answered by early February, after which they will expect to see additional submissions before they come to a conclusion, around the time of their meeting in June 2013.
Mrs Metcalfe said that she was both humbled and proud to represent her Community Council, at little cost, in the heart of worldwide decision making; and to be received with such courtesy.
Her colleagues and community are to be commended for providing the initial mandate and on-going support for the initiative.
The Carraig Gheal windfarm is now under construction, and the Forestry Commission’s access road may subsequently be used as a windfarm ‘motorway’ providing access for even more wind farms around the habitats and hills of the longest loch in Scotland.
It is therefore of great importance that these higher level issues of access to information, public participation, and access to justice are able to be discussed.
The CATS campaign [Communities Against Turbines Scotland] says: ‘The Scottish Government seems to be incessantly driving towards meeting its meaningless targets; and it has quite failed to demonstrate that no matter how many wind turbines and wind farms are installed, no clear benefits are shown to the citizens and the communities who have to play host to these industrial turbines all over the country.
‘If anything, the reverse is true.
Thanking all her supporters, Mrs Metcalfe says that she is looking forward to the next stage and to formulating her arguments in light of the discussions in Geneva.
‘Three members of CATS (Communities Against Turbines Scotland) were at the hearing to support Christine Metcalfe, whilst representing those communities of Scotland besieged by windfarm development.
‘As first time participants at the Compliance Committee, we found it an interesting and very valuable experience and it has given us real hope in democracy again.
‘In the questions presented at the end of the day by the Committee, they have put the onus on the Scottish authorities to prove in writing that they have complied with the necessary public participation steps, in both Christine Metcalfe’s complaint – the Carriag Gheal / WLATHR projects, and the Renewable Programme itself.
‘They now have to demonstrate that within the Scottish legal framework, there is actually a step for preparing and making available a written analysis of public participation in reaching their decision on such projects. They will have to explain, after all these years of development, why the Renewable Routemap is still a draft, with no real SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment) to support it.
‘As we were invited to speak in support of the complaint, we now have the opportunity to follow this up with evidence.
‘Observers were present from all over Europe all with the same testimony.
‘People throughout Europe, fighting the unremitting development of wind turbines, owe Christine Metcalfe and the Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council a debt of gratitude for having the courage to pursue this matter to the United Nations Court.’
The issue here is one that appears to have become antithetical to the Scottish Government in so many areas – and that is openness with its citizens and paymasters.
It is invigorating to see an Argyll community council few, even here, have heard of, take a case to the UN – knowing that they had every right to do so and standing up confidently in the exercise of that right.
This also reminds nations that treaties are not to be signed and ignored, They carry legal weight that can, as here, be brought home to them.
The Avich and Kilchrenan action is an inspirational strike for democracy, a commodity in decreasing supply.
It is a disturbing note that a trusted government agency like the Forestry Commission may have squandered its credibility by applying for permission for a timber haulage route which had a hidden purpose, in a move to outwit local communities affected by a planned windfarm development; and whose rights to accurate information on environmental matters like this are enshrined in the Aarhus Convention.
It will be interesting for all of us to see what conclusions the UN Economic Commission for Europe come to in June 2013.