At times it can feel a bit like we are not getting the full story when campaigning to protect ancient woodland. This might be from the Local Planning Authority, the developer or the relevant Government Agency – each have been known to push ahead development proposals.
Is this deliberate? The holding of ‘consultation’ periods over Christmas or other public holidays, not fully consulting on changes to plans or even refusing to publicise pertinent environmental impact studies does not give you the greatest faith in the planning process. One can’t help feeling that vital information is being withheld as it would paint too clear a picture of the actual environmental impacts of a development.
Well, it seems that other people also feel this too – so much so that the local group we are working with to save ancient woodland from the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR – where over fifteen ancient and long-established woodlands are threatened) has challenged the Scottish Government under a little-known piece of European legislation, the Aarhus Convention.
The UNECE ‘Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, was signed in 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus and came into force in 2001. It was designed to focus on the relationship between people and governments linking environmental rights and human rights, rather than on technical habitat designations.
This is a new kind of environmental agreement which:
- acknowledges that we have an obligation to future generations;
- establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders;
- links government accountability and environmental protection; and
- focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context, and it is forging a new process for public participation in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements.
Road Sense is certainly serious in undertaking this line of action. This challenge makes it clear that the campaign group feels they have not been given adequate access to the environmental information that formed part of the proposals, and that there has not been the opportunity for full public participation in environmental decision-making for the road scheme. Road Sense is trying to address their lack of confidence in the Scottish Government’s planning of the AWPR. They have chosen to use a democratic process that has been put in place for this very reason.
As campaigners, it is motivating to see a new line of challenge being utilised for major infrastructure developments that impact heavily on the environment. It will be interesting to see what the result of this challenge will be, as the outcome may well influence activities that are carried out in future. One welcome improvement would be an improvement in public consultation across the board.
We wish Road Sense the very best of outcomes for their challenge and will let you know as soon as we hear of the outcome. Find out more about the Trust’s campaign against the AWPR here.