Environment


Subsidy withdrawal from renewable energy entirely lawful – Court of Appeal

26 October 2016 by

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Infinis Energy Holdings Ltd v HM Treasury and Anor [2016] EWCA Civ 1030 – read judgment

In July 2015 the government announced that it was removing a subsidy for renewable energy. Its decision in fact was to take away the exemption that renewable source electricity enjoyed from a tax known as the climate change levy. We have covered previous episodes in the renewables saga on the UKHRB in various posts.

The appellant, the largest landfill gas operator in the UK and one of the leading onshore wind generators, challenged the government’s removal of the subsidy on the basis of the EU law principles of foreseeability, legal certainty, the protection of legitimate expectations or proportionality. At first instance the judge upheld the Secretary of State’s decision, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal against this finding.

Legal and Factual Background

The subsidy took the form of an exemption for renewable source electricity (RSE) such as that provided by the appellant’s company, from the climate change levy (CCL). (The judgment is replete with these acronyms so it’s worth getting to grips with them before reading.)

Jay J, the judge at first instance, summarised the government’s reasons for removing the exemption. The government wanted to move away from a system of indirect support to one of direct support, the latter being more efficient and cost-effective. The exemption, it was said, benefited foreign generators and there were incentives and support in place that would continue to support domestic generators of renewable energy.  The government had considered the impact of this decision on companies such as Infinis,  but it was decided that it was outweighed by the public interest. 
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Mandatory order to stop bribery investigation?

13 October 2016 by

wasR (o.t.a Soma Oil & Gas) v. Director of the Serious Fraud Office [2016] EWHC 2471 (Admin) 12 October 2016 – read judgment

Soma are investing heavily ($40m spent on seismic work) in looking at oil and gas extraction in Somalia, so it was a bit of a set-back, to say the least, when their “capacity-building” efforts – funding infrastructure in the relevant Ministry – were alleged to fall under the Bribery Act 2010, and this led to a fraud investigation by the UK SFO. The investigations, as investigations do, dragged on, and Soma brought these, somewhat ambitious, proceedings to get an order telling the SFO to stop them.

As you may have guessed, the claim failed, though, as we will see, it may have achieved rather different benefits.

The judgment of the Administrative Court is a concise account of when the private challenger can and cannot seek orders in respect of investigations and prosecutions – whether to stop or start them. Here Soma wanted to stop the investigation. In other circumstances, a victim may want the authorities to start an investigation or prosecution into another party: see, e.g. Chaudhry, decided earlier this week.

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Hard cases need better reasons

16 September 2016 by

13454123443_80fef9d87e_bR (o.t.a. CPRE Kent) v. Dover District Council [2016] EWCA Civ 936, 14 September 2016, read judgment

The Court of Appeal has just given us a robust vindication of the importance of giving proper reasons when granting planning permission, by way of a healthy antidote to any suggestion that this is not really needed as part of fairness.

It is, as we shall see, very context-specific, and Laws LJ, giving the main judgment, was careful not to give the green light to floods of reasons challenges – common enough as they are in planning judicial reviews. Nonetheless it is a decision of significance.


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The Environmental Law Foundation

8 August 2016 by

elf_mainMany 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.

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Latest twist on standard of review in Aarhus cases

3 May 2016 by

_88207153_treeR (o.t.a. Dilner) v. Sheffield City Council [2016] EWHC 945 (Admin), Gilbart J, 27 April 2016, read judgment

A quick note on the latest Aarhus Convention point to come before the domestic courts.

In November 2015, I posted on the decision by Ouseley J in McMorn here that a gamekeeper’s challenge fell within the scope of Aarhus, and that as a result there should be a more intense scrutiny of the underlying merits of the claim than would typically be allowed under domestic public law principles.

The current case bears on the standard of review point. Mr Dilner and other environmental campaigners challenged the tree-felling policies of Sheffield City Council, and one of his arguments was that tree-felling required an environmental assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. This environmental claim fell within the protections conferred by the Aarhus Convention, and hence, it was said, required such an intense scrutiny. Mr Dilner relied upon Ouseley J’s reasoning.

Gilbart J robustly rejected the argument, and did not follow Ouseley J’s ruling.

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Watery rights and wrongs – and causation too

10 February 2016 by

TA-ArcticCharr-002R (o.t.a Seiont, Gwyfrai and Llyfni Anglers Society) v. Natural Resources Wales [2015] EWHC 3578, Hickinbottom J, 17 December 2015, read judgment and

Chetwynd v. Tunmore [2016] EWHC 156 (QB), HHJ Reddihough, sitting as a judge of the High Court, 4 February 2016, read judgment

This is a wintry double-bill on two recently decided cases about water quality, quantity, fish – and causation.

In the first, Seiont, Snowdonian anglers complained that the Welsh water regulator (Natural Resources Wales or NRW)  had misunderstood what was required by the Environmental Liability Directive in respect of Llyn Padarn, a freshwater lake the home of the Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus.  So they sought judicial review of NRW’s decision.

The main legal question was – did environmental damage within the Directive include slowing down recovery from previous damage, as the anglers argued, or was it confined to deterioration from an existing state (as the regulator had decided)?

Hickinbottom J held the latter, and the claim was dismissed.

In the second case, the claimant owners of fishing lakes in Norfolk said that their neighbours, in constructing rival lakes (without planning permission) had caused water levels to fall, and hence loss of fish and consequent income. Had that been established, the claimants would have had a claim for breach of statutory duty under section 48A Water Resources Act 1991. Such a claim, the judge held, would have been a strict liability one, in which foreseeability of damage played no part.

But the claimants lost on the facts, not before the judge had given an interesting analysis of the law of causation in this field.

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Gamekeeper’s environmental Aarhus claim to shoot buzzards?

14 November 2015 by

Buteo_buteo_-Netherlands-8McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

An interesting point arose in this judicial review (for which see Rosalind English’s post here). Could the claimant could get the benefit of an order that any costs he might have had to pay were capped at £5,000? The original judge, Thirlwall J, when granting permission, had refused this costs protection. Ouseley J granted it, though, because the claimant won, the order is academic (short of a successful appeal by the defendant). 

This kind of costs protection only applies when the claim is an environmental claim covered by the Aarhus Convention: see a whole list of posts at the end of this one, including the true bluffer’s guide here. The UK has been dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Aarhus costs requirements, that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, thanks to a combination of the Convention’s own enforcement body and the EU Court in Luxembourg.

But the domestic courts have had some difficulty in deciding what is or is not comes within an environmental challenge.

As we will see, the judge also thought that an Aarhus claim requires a more intensive review of the substantive decision than might have been applied had the claim been a typical domestic challenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.

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Buzzards should not be protected any more than herring gulls and cormorants: High Court

14 November 2015 by

buzzard06McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

Public opinion regarding raptors and pheasant shoots should not influence the authorisation of buzzard control, the Administrative Court has ruled. Any derogations to the EU protection of wild birds should apply equally across wild avian species, irrespective of their popularity.

This was a gamekeeper’s challenge to the refusal by the defendant statutory body (Natural England) to grant him a licence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to kill buzzards which he said were destroying such high numbers of game birds as to render his shoot unviable.

At the heart of the claimant’s challenge was his contention that NE treated raptors differently from other wild birds, making it far harder, well-nigh if not quite impossible, for anyone to meet the statutory conditions for the issue of a licence.
He maintained the defendant treated these licence applications differently because of the public controversy which the grant of a licence for the killing of buzzards would engender. This was because of perceived adverse public opinion about the protection of a pheasant shoot. Hence, the decision was based on unjustified inconsistencies in NE’s treatment of raptor and other birds equally protected under the law. 
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US court takes important step in resolving human/wildlife conflict at sea

30 September 2015 by

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

California Sea Urchin Commission, et al. v Michael Bean, et al, US District Court, Central District of California (September 18 2015) – read judgment

A Californian court has upheld the protection of marine otters over the interests of commercial fishing.

Sea otters are remarkable marine mammals who live their entire lives at sea, giving birth in the water and clutching their cubs to their bellies as they float in rafts of up to a thousand, holding hands while they sleep to avoid drifting off in the ocean’s currents. But they are not just picturesque; they are essential to the health of the seas. A main component of their diet is the ubiquitous sea urchin, which feeds on kelp. As sea otters have been hunted and killed as by-catch over the centuries, their diminishing numbers have led to the proliferation of the sea urchin population and the consequent disappearance of the kelp forests on the seabed. The damage this does to the marine ecosystem has been inestimable.

This somewhat technical judgment, made on a preliminary application for summary judgment by the fishing industry, therefore marks an important step in the judicial response to marine conservation.
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A vegan in charge of agriculture? Herod at the nursery gates!

16 September 2015 by

CO3P2F_UYAIyidu.jpg-largeUpdated: Well, not exactly. But the outrage attending Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of animal welfare campaigner Kerry McCarthy to the shadow DEFRA post betrays a level of panic which defies logic. What is wrong with someone concerned with humane animal husbandry being in charge of those who regulate it? See Maria Chiorando’s “A vegan shadow agriculture minister is a good move for farming” for a sane assessment of this particular episode in the post-Corbyn drama.

The timing is perhaps apt:  The picture to the left depicts a cow awaiting her slaughter after a long journey through Europe.  To register your objection to this practice, join Compassion in World Farming on 9th October in London: https://www.facebook.com/events/141120356236597/

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Supreme Court: no excuses, UK must comply with EU air pollution law

30 April 2015 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Supreme Court, 29 April 2015, judgment here

Bit of a history to this one, with 5 hearings so far. The short version is that in May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here), faced with the UK’s non-compliance with EU Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air), decide  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.  In 2014, the CJEU said its piece, (C404-13 and my post here), and its views are now considered by the Supreme Court, hence this second SC judgment.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 of the Air Quality Directive since 1 January 2010, by not complying with pollution limits in specified areas. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and the lower courts said that, given that admission, it was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.  The Supreme Court’s 2013 judgement disagreed; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning and enforcement of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Water companies are public authorities and must therefore disclose environmental information

16 April 2015 by

water_tapFish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure) [2015] UKUT 52 (AAC) Charles J – read judgment

Water and sewage utility companies are “public authorities” for the purposes of the environmental information regulations, and are bound by them accordingly, the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has ruled.

Fish Legal is the legal arm of the Angling Trust. In 2009 it asked United Utilities Water plc and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd for information relating to discharges, clean-up operations, and emergency overflow. Emily Shirley is a private individual. Again, she asked Southern Water Services Ltd for information relating to sewerage capacity for a planning proposal in her village. All three companies denied that they were under a duty to provide the information under Environmental Information Regulations. Both Fish Legal and Mrs Shirley complained to the Commissioner. In 2010 the Commissioner replied, explaining that as the companies were not public authorities for the purposes of EIR, he had no power to adjudicate the complaints.
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Ping pong: CJEU air pollution ruling – back to the Supreme Court

19 November 2014 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs , CJEU, 19 November 2014 – read C404-13 

In May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here) was sufficiently concerned about the UK’s lack of compliance  with EU legislation, Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air)  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 the Directive since 1 January 2010, because 40 “zones and agglomerations”  had nitrogen dioxide at concentrations greater than the limit values set out in the Directive. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and, given the admission, the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal said that there was no point in granting any declaratory relief. It was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings. And those lower courts disagreed with ClientEarth’s interpretation of the Directive, which, as we shall see, has now for the first time been upheld by the CJEU.

The Supreme Court went rather further; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Wind turbines, noise and public information

7 November 2014 by

3844964938R (o.t.a Joicey) v. Northumberland County Council , 7 November 2014, Cranston J  read judgment

An interesting decision about a Council not supplying some key information about a wind turbine project to the public until very late in the day. Can an objector apply to set the grant of permission aside? Answer: yes, unless the Council can show that it would have inevitably have come to the same conclusion, even if the information had been made public earlier.

Mr Barber, a farmer, wanted to put up one turbine (47m to tip) on his land. The claimant was an objector, another farmer who lives 4km away, and who campaigns about subsidies for renewables – it is him in the pic. The planning application was complicated by the fact that an application for 6 turbines at Barmoor nearby had already been approved (where Mr Joicey is standing), and the rules on noise from wind turbines looks at the total noise affecting local people, not just from Mr Barber’s turbine.

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Private nuisance – Article 6 and the costs conundrum

23 July 2014 by

400px-Ffos_Y_Fran_open_cast_mine,_Merthyr_TydfilCoventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 23 July 2014, read judgment and Austin v. Miller Argent [2014] EWCA Civ 1012, 21 July 2014 read judgment

Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases.  Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.

Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small”  local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.

In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).

So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.

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