Many readers will know that I have banged on, long and hard, via this blog about the constant problem we have in the UK trying to ensure that the cost of planning and environmental litigation is not prohibitively expensive for ordinary people. The UK system has been held repeatedly to be in breach of Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention, which says that members of the public should be able to challenge environmental decisions, and the procedures for doing so shall be adequate and effective and “not prohibitively expensive”. For Aarhus beginners, have a look at my bluffers guide – here
So I was delighted to be asked recently to chair the Environmental Law Foundation whose main role is to help out people, for free, with their planning and environmental problems. ELF is going to have its 25th birthday next year, and this short post is an unashamed plug for the job that it does – together with an invitation to contact it (see below) if you have a problem you think they may be able to help with, or if you want to volunteer to assist on someone else’s problem.
One of the problems with planning and environmental issues is that they are devilish complicated, both factually and legally, and people need all the help they can get. Take a case typical of the last 5 years. Someone wants to build a wind farm near your community. You go onto the local council’s website to see what information the developer has put up about the project. You idly riff through the Environmental Statement, all 1200 pages of it. How is your knowledge of acoustics? Poor? If so, not much point reading their noise report saying that everything will be alright. What effect is the project going to have on birds, or bats? Can you decipher the ecological jargon in which their reports are clothed? And that is the science, even before you get to the congested prose in which lawyers and planners express themselves.
So the idea is to try and help people with all this, firstly to understand it, and secondly, once understood, to object to it if that is what the community wants.
From its title, Environmental Law Foundation, you might think that it is just about law, and that ELF just wants lawyer volunteers. Not a bit of it. We would be delighted to get the help of those with a scientific background who can seek to analyse and explain the issues.
At the moment, ELF depends on volunteers at all levels. We have successful programmes for students who help (under the supervision of a lawyer) with various problems which come into ELF, and barristers and solicitors of all ages and stages provide assistance as well. So if you think you would like to help, or indeed if you would just like to know a little more about us, have a look here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will see from the website that we are currently involved in campaigns to protect a pristine beach from a proposed open cast mine, or to save wildflower meadows – and what about whether it is lawful for a Council to charge people for access to a beach.
ELF also says its piece on wider issues, such as access to justice, with which this post started. And we face a huge challenge over the next few years in doing our bit to make sure that Brexit is not disastrous for the environment. We have 40 years of accumulated European law which has massively improved our air and water quality (to name but two areas), and we must keep up the pressure to make sure this progress is not lost in the near future.
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- The Supreme Court on “prohibitively expensive” costs: Aarhus again
- Aarhus, AG Kokott’s opinion and the reciprocal cap
- The CJEU on “prohibitively expensive” and the new protective costs order regime.
- Aarhus for beginners
- Private nuisance and the costs conundrum
- Court of Appeal downplays Aarhus
- Environmental judicial review is “prohibitively expensive”, uncertain and insufficient
- Why can’t objectors appeal a planning consent or environmental permit?