Argyll grandmother takes UK and EU to the United Nations over plans to turn Scotland into windfarm 'hedgehog'
Christine Metcalfe claims UK Government and the EU have breached a fundamental tenet of citizens’ rights under the UN’s Åarhus Convention
Margareta Pagano is a former business editor of the Independent on Sunday who now writes columns and business interviews for a range of publications, including the Independent, Independent on Sunday and London Evening Standard.
Monday 10 December 2012
A community councillor from Argyll is mounting a landmark legal challenge against the UK and the EU at the United Nations in Geneva this week over their renewables policies, on the grounds that the public is being denied the truth about the alleged benefits, and the adverse impact, of wind power.
Christine Metcalfe, who represents Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council, claims that the UK Government and the EU have breached a fundamental tenet of citizens’ rights under the UN’s Åarhus Convention, and she will appear before the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe to explain why.
Mrs Metcalfe will present her council’s case at a hearing before UNECE’s Compliance Committee next Wednesday alleging that the UK and the EU are pursuing renewables policies which have been designed in such a way that they have denied the public the right to be informed about, or to ascertain, the alleged benefits in reducing CO 2 and harmful pollution emissions from wind power, or the negative effects of wind power on health, the environment and the economy.
In an interview with The Independent, Mrs Metcalfe said: “Our challenge is a democratic one: the UK and EU are by-passing the proper environmental and economic assessments and legally-binding procedures related to democratic accountability. Scotland, she said, is being turned into a ‘hedgehog’ as a result, being covered with more than 3,500 wind turbines without due regard for the growing scientific evidence which shows they have a profoundly damaging effect on the local ecology and on people’s health. “Such devastating changes might be merited if we had the information to enable us to understand the benefits. Many of the supposed claims by government are now proving to be the opposite of what they say.”
“Instead, the onus should be on the developers to prove the positive. No wind farm developer has ever had to explain the benefits of wind. Evidence tells us that wind power performance shows not only no reduction in CO 2 and other harmful emissions, but the very reverse. But Alex Salmond is driving an aggressive green agenda like an express train across Scotland, bludgeoning anyone who gets in the way as being a Luddite and anti-green.”
Indeed, she claims that Scotland’s renewables strategy – its Routemap 2020, now in its second edition – is a disingenuous and deeply flawed document that was published without public consultation.
Yet Mrs Metcalfe, who is 69, is not a political animal: “I’m not a crusader, I’m not a campaigner but an ordinary person who is fighting for grass-roots democracy. I just want the information t help me understand there this is taking us.” Taking the UK and the EU to the United Nations is not what she expected when she retired to Argyll, with her husband, Peter, from England 22 years ago. Their home is on the edge of Loch Avich, close to Kilmelford, and they were drawn to the area because of their love for the wild scenery. They have access to hundreds of acres of wetlands that are home to otters, Osprey, Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles.
The catalyst for Mrs Metcalfe and her community council’s decision to launch the UN challenge was their experience of the Carraig Gheal wind farm and problems surrounding the access route – known as the West Loch Awe Timber Haul Route – in the AKCC’s locality; an area of great beauty and a nesting area for Golden Eagles among other rare species.
When the council discovered the wind farm’s access route was being built through an area close to where the eagles nest, it contacted the Forestry Commission, owner of the land and co-developer, for more information about an alternative route. But the FC was unwilling to provide more and the AKCC was forced to send out Freedom of Information notices, claiming the commission had destroyed important documents. “That’s when we decide to hold the authorities to account,” she said.
If the committee upholds the complaint, the UN has the power to require the UK and EU to adhere to its ruling, as they are signatories to the international treaty known as the Åarhus Convention. Legal experts predict that if the tribunal finds in her favour, the decision could have a big impact on all wind farm projects throughout the country, as developers will be forced to make far more comprehensive “benefit statements” with their planning applications, and governments will have to back up claims about the alleged benefits.
More pertinently, Mrs Metcalfe claims that some communities in Scotland are being driven to a state of civil war: “Wind farms are splitting communities and dividing friends. Some land-owners are being so generously rewarded for selling or leasing their land to developers that they are turning a blind-eye to what’s really happening.” Others, she said, who have the temerity to question the alleged benefits, are being subjected to death threats, insults, and burglaries, right across the country
With her at the tribunal at the UN’s offices at Avenue de la Paix in Geneva will be her counsel, John Campbell QC, one of Scotland’s leading advocates and a planning expert, and Pat Swords, an Irish chemical engineer and environmentalist, whose own challenge to Ireland’s energy policy was upheld by the UNECE compliance committee earlier this year. He has now called for a judicial review of Ireland’s Renewable Energy Action Plan. Representatives of the UK’s DEFRA and the EU are also expected to attend the hearing.
While Mrs Metcalfe admits to a few nerves about the 1800 km journey to Geneva, she is resolute: “I’m doing this for those who don’t have a voice. The lack of debate, and information about the negative effects of wind power, means that people and the environment in my country are being treated by the government as collateral damage. Whatever the outcome of Geneva, there will be repercussions because the short-comings of the current energy policy, based on the rush for wind, will be exposed.”
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