Action from Argyll proves game-changer in wind farm consents for Scottish and UK governments

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“).’
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48 Responses to Action from Argyll proves game-changer in wind farm consents for Scottish and UK governments

  1. The basic philosophy of renewable energy development is laudable, but surely the investment (and extra cost to the consumer) of the wind rush has got completely out of kilter with our capacity to store such a widely variable energy source.
    This is reflected in the payments not to generate at times of high production (ok I know this is partly because of inadequate infrastructure to shift the energy to where it’s needed) The development of wind farms seems to be seen as a licence to print money, but where’s the incentive to develop energy storage systems?
    This is all on top of the ‘steamrollering’ of valid environmental concerns highlighted by Christine Metcalfe.

    PS – the Carraig Gheal project website seems to reflect a remarkable lack of concern to inform, compared with that of the Allt Dearg, Ardrishaig, wind farm.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

    • Exactly, but it will always be the philosophy of renewable energy that is the only good thing. In practice, it is abysmal. Indeed, I’d go as far to say that any politician supporting it is committing an act of treason.

      They have betrayed the British environment, electorate and economy.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

    • Robert – you make a fair comment that the rate of wind farm development in Scotland has to some extent outstripped the construction rate of the necessary grid reinforcements to transfer the power, but those reinforcements are being built, so it is a short-term problem. Arguably this is the result of the absence of central planning in the de-regulated electricity market we have had since the early 1990s. Effectively the market is saying that in the short term it is cheaper to pay the constraint costs than the reinforcement costs.

      Although the sums paid to wind ‘farmers’ to shut down occasionally in high winds look impressive when taken out of context in a Daily Mail headline, they are really quite tiny in the context of daily cash flows in the electricity market as a whole, and funnily enough these media reports never seem to quote constraint payments to fossil generators for comparison. This does not mean they are insignificant or that they do not happen every day.

      As to energy storage – there must be some incentive to build it, since SSE are in advanced planning for a new pumped storage system on Loch Lochy, and early planning for another on Loch Ness. Each of these is substantially larger than the existing plants at Cruachan and Foyers. Also, the ‘widely variable’ nature of wind power is not a problem to incorporate into a system already designed to cope with widely variable demand, at least until the proportion of wind power is a lot higher than it is at present in the UK. There is plenty of well-established research to back this up, a large scale review of which was carried out by the UK Energy Research Council a while ago.

      The Aarhus Committee report nowhere upholds any claim that valid concerns have been ‘steamrollered’ – it simply finds that the UK did not adequately consult the public prior to its adoption of the National Renewable Energy Action Plan. In this respect, the ruling is no different from the earlier one concerning Ireland’s NREAP a couple of years back. In all other respects, the report gives a clean bill of health to the way in which the Carraig Gheal project was carried out, and the way in which the Scottish Government’s policies on renewable energy were adopted – at least that’s my reading of it, see link below.

      It’s also worth noting that the NREAPs were formed and adopted by EU member states in response to the Renewable Energy Directive’s 2020 targets. These targets (in the UK it is 15%, and enshrined in UK law) have not disappeared, so anything which makes it harder to develop onshore wind (the cheapest form of renewable electricity) will increase the requirement for offshore wind, which is at present substantially more expensive. Good news perhaps for anti-wind farm campaigners, but not for consumers.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

      • So you are saying that we – the consumers – should be lumbered with ¬£billions more on our electricity bills to upgrade the National Grid to be able to use the occasional and intermittent expensive electricity supply from wind farms. Electricity that we don’t actually need and which costs double the price per KWh than that from a normal Power Station – it doesn’t make sense ! This was all caused by vested interests who panicked politicians into believing that Global Warming was man made and we were all about to die ! It is becoming more and more apparent that GB has little to do with mankind.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

  2. A quote from the SNP’s Fergus Ewing in answer to the above:- ” The Aarhus Committee have fully backed the Scottish Government’s position in terms of public access to the environmental decision-making and environmental information ” What sort of a dishonest world do these SNP people live in ?
    By the way – welcome onside Robert – it’s taken a while !

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 10

    • Have you not worked out what type of “dishonest” world they live in yet, Malcolm? Just look at the Trump fiasco, or the response from Salmond to the EU question or how about the SNP chaos caused by Mike Russel et al in A&B Council?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

    • I cannot wait for the SNP to get thrashed next year. I reckon they’ll be lucky to get 25% of the vote come polling day.

      Their support for the windustry just shows that they are living in a fantasy land.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 9

      • If I remember rightly the SNP only got 24% of the total population of Scotland to vote for them at the last election. Do you think it has got any better for them since ? I don’t think so !

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8

        • Not in the slightest confused. The only party wanting independence is the SNP, so a vote for them can surely be equated to their last country wide popularity poll which was 24% of the total population at the last election.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

          • Malcolm, surely you too have been either asleep or taking mind bending substances.

            “The only party wanting independence is the SNP” ?????????

            If you are planning to vote ‘No’ as is pretty obvious don’t you think it is extremely irresponsible not to learn a wee bit before making such an important decision?

            Dear dear dear, what chance has we got of making at least a semi-informed choice with comments like this, just unbelievable.

            The Scottish Green Party, The Scottish Socialst Party are just two who support Scottish independence, that is unless you do not recognise them as party’s?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

      • Mikken
        “I cannot wait for the SNP to get thrashed next year”
        I enjoy politics and follow quite closely but must have missed something here. Can you enlighten me, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to vote for the party I am a member of, the SNP.
        When are the SNP standing for election?
        I’m so annoyed with our branch not telling me, the swines that they are!
        Just wait till our next meeting.
        Is your statement for real? Genuinely, is it?
        Bloody hell, what chance has Scotland got when people actually think that the SNP is listed on the paper that asks -
        ‘Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?’
        A. YES
        B. NO
        C. SNP
        I can 100% assure you, its most definitely a straight aye or naw. Mr Cameron put the kybosh on those planning to vote for a Devo max option, mose devolved powers.
        Btw I take it you keep an eye on the polls regarding this referendum thingy and you’ll most likely be quite content with the ‘No’ results at this very premature stage in this marathon?
        If you do you may also have noticed a very recent poll showing that if there was to be another Scottish election held, as things stand the SNP would not only win it again but by an even larger increased majority!
        I don’t quite know if predictions is you forte Mikken, in fact if you head along to the bookies I’m sure you’ll get a very hansome and generous price on the SNP getting thrashed at the next Scottish elections in 2016 if this is what you meant.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

        • I’m not confused. Voting yes is voting for everything the loony socialist SNP stand for.

          The SNP/ greens/ socialists are all political jokes.

          I’m voting NO, just like the vast majority of my daughters teenage friends and my sons friends at Glasgow University.

          Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8

          • So the Scottish electorate give a majority to a political joke of a Party.
            Nice you think so highly of such a large amount of your fellow country men and women’s political judgement.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

          • Glasgow – A Labour stronghold
            Labour- A now right of centre anti-socialist party.
            Glasgow – Announced today, 30+% unemployment and UK 18%. One of few places in Scotland the SNP have yet to crack but making ground.
            You say your daughter’s and son’s friends at uni are voting ‘No’ (Whatever uni has to do with things)
            Any idea what appeals to them with the status quo?
            Are the students in Glasgow university cocooned from the ails of this city? Maybe some of them live in a parallel universe.
            Maybe you are crossing your fingers and hoping the Tories or Labour (Two cheeks of the same arse) succeed (Unlikely as it sounds) in 2016 that way the abolition of tuition fees will have to be stumped up by folks like you, how does that appeal Mikkel or are you loaded and couldn’t give a?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

          • Are you a socialist?

            Do you blame all bad fortune on ‘evil’ Westminster?

            Do you believe wind power should be in our energy mix?

            Do you hate nuclear?

            I love Scotland, and the sooner we vote no – which will happen – we can all move on and jump back into reality and stop playing make believe.

            Nobody deserves a free education by birth right. If they are talented they can earn a scholarship. If they are creative they can go and build a business and become a billionaire. I believe in meritocracy.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

          • What !
            when did the snp stop being tartan Tories!,
            Milkken base on your comments you must be to the right of the looney ukip and atilla the Hun!

            Nobody deserves a free education by birth right according to you

            I disagree and so does most of Scotland.

            You love Scotland pity you show contempt to its people.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  3. Congratulations to Christine and all others involved. A lot of time, effort and resources were needed to achieve this result.

    The one disappointment is that this result does nothing about the increase in energy bills from the substantial subsidies paid to the rich and therefore will continue to increase fuel poverty.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 8

    • Shale gas is in the interest of the country, wind is not.

      Shale gas leads to lower bills, turbines do not.

      4 hectares of ‘fracking’ in Britain would produce more energy than the entire British windustry.

      In the litigious USA – where over 1,000,000 discreet wells have been made – not one single case of water pollution has been recorded.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 10

    • From what we have seen so far this ruling has virtually no implications for the fracking industry. “Why?

      1. We haven’t got a fracking industry yet for the simple reason that the Liberals would rather see fuel poverty rising so that they – and the SNP in Scotland – can pretend they care about the environment.

      2. The government is doing everything with fracking applications that they have been criticised for NOT DOING with wind farms.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. This is an APPALLING ruling. Of course no one wants a nuclear power station, wind farm, fracking, a motorway, an animal rendering plant, a landfill (you get the picture) near their house, or even simply somewhere where they have been on holiday a couple of times. “Full and effective public participation” of this type of essential but ultimately harmful infratructure will always bias towards rejection – and where will the necessary if slightly unglamourous infrastrucure go – generally more deprived areas with less monified retired people to cause a fuss. If Christine and her community were responsible for supplying their own energy, I suspect the story in Argyll would be rather different. But yes lets just keep importing oil and gas, paying the exorbitant price hikes and not bother.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 9

    • Laura – the report quite specifically rejects the claims that the government did not give due regard to public complaints about either the wind farm or the access road at Carraig Gheal.

      And, to be fair – the wind farm has been built and is now operational, so the objections were not sustained, regardless of what socio-economic group they may have come from.

      The Aarhus report also asserts this in more general terms in para. 93: “…the Committee confirms that the requirement of article 6, paragraph 8, of the [Aarhus] Convention that public authorities take due account of the outcome of public participation, does not amount to a right of the public to veto the decision. In particular, this provision should not be read as requiring that the final say about the fate and design of the project rests with the local community living near the project, or that their acceptance is always required.”

      So, the Committee essentially agrees with you :-)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    • Laura – future Nuclear Power Stations will be built on existing sites – I suggest you look at the picture posted by Mikken 3 posts above to see what a shale gas site looks like when operational – there have been many occasions in recent times when landfill sites have been rejected because of their closeness to habitation – so where you get your ideas from I don’t know. We probably all agree on the motorway point however.
      Fuel poverty is something we attribute to less well off people surely, not monified retired people.That is one of the many reasons so many people are against wind farms, they are the ultimate ripoff causing unnecessary price increases to those who can least afford it.
      I would agree that “the story in Argyll would be rather different” and indeed very much better, but only if Christine Metcalfe was in charge.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

      • Malcolm I can’t help feeling that you’re misinterpreting Laura’s comments. My reading of it is that, in her opinion, local residents would be generally against larger infrastructure development in their local area (or areas that they’re familiar with). She gave a few examples to illustrate her point. I would tend to agree with her.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

    • Nuclear power – 100% necessary and used virtually all of the time.

      Shale Gas – 100% necessary, effective and discreet.

      Motorways – 100% necessary.

      Can you see where I’m going with this?

      Wind turbines – farcical and bad for the economy, the environment and the electorate.

      You also forget that it is a windustry truism that ‘wind fuels gas’. We become more reliant on it as can be seen in Spain, Germany and Portugal.

      Incidentally, your views on coal, nuclear and gas are completely irrelevant because turbines never have and never will replace any of them. They don’t even displace our real usage of them.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

    • Laura,

      The unglamorous infrastructure shouldn’t be built at all.

      If Christine Metcalfe – who is a hero in my book – needed to supply her own power she could do it with a small generator in a lean-to shed beside her house as was done in the past before the mildly obtrusive wood pole overhead lines were built.

      i.e no 200ft pylons and no thousands of 450ft monoliths.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

      • ‘Mildly obtrusive wood poles’ – a literally correct statement, but you’re scraping the barrel in your criticisms of the infrastructure that has made life so much easier in rural and remote areas of this country. You suggestion of ‘a small generator in a lean-to shed’ is a strange comment from someone who claims elsewhere to have ‘worked extensively in power generation’.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  5. I wonder how many people have taken the trouble to read the actual text of the findings. Once you’ve read the facts you’ll see that all but one of the complaints were dismissed (including those aimed at the Scottish Government). The sensationalism that is evident here and in certain parts of the press does not in any way tie in with the findings of the committee. The reality is that in future the Westminster Government has to submit plans and programmes similar in nature to NREAPs to public participation as required by article 7. So please tell me how that translates as a “game changer in wind farm consents” when those specific complaints were dismissed?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  6. Just for Laura !
    Part of an email sent out today from Scotland against Spin (SAS) to its 350 members representing individuals and protest group secretaries.
    “The Scottish Border Network joined by South of Scotland groups will be hosting this years anti-wind turbine protest in Perth on Sat October 19th. Supported by SAS and campaigners from across Scotland,the protest will highlight the particular plight of the country south of Edinburgh and Glasgow. More turbine development has been forced on this region than any other in Scotland.
    The latest figures from the Scottish Borders Network show how grim the situation is, particularly in Berwickshire:-
    426 consented turbines of which 358 affect Berwickshire
    213 turbines currently in the Planning process, of which 60 affect Berwickshire.
    60 turbines are at appeal, of which 52 relate to Berwickshire
    243 turbines being considered as Section 36 developments,of which 106 affect Berwickshire
    400 (approx) further turbines currently being screened/ scoped.
    So you see Laura a beautiful county ruined by useless ineffectual expensive wind farms. WHY ?
    And in case you didn’t know they also have a Nuclear Power Station – Torness – supplying a regular 24 / 365 supply of electricity and yes – it’s not cheap – but it is always there for us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  7. Whilst it is important that forums like this can allow normal people to vent their feelings on “the good, the bad, and the ugly’ members of Argyll CC and all other headline creating matters of the day, I make no apology to bringing your attention again to the post above – No. 10 ” Just for Laura” The Borders probably have more heritage and history than Argyll but are being trashed by the Parliament at Holyrood, especially Berwickshire. Holyrood apparently intends doubling even trebling the numbers to further desecrate our traditional historic Scottish landscapes and for no other reason than Political bigotry. It has to stop !

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

    • And, of course, it’s on the border. There is already a stark difference between north and south, with regard to wind turbines, as one travels along the M74.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  8. Not that I hold any great regard for the landed fraternity, at least, the Duke of Northumberland has the wit not to allow such spoliation of his land in England and is markedly less than chuffed about the Berwickshire plans which will impact on his northern border.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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