News of Diana Schumacher
The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) is a charity which helps the voice of ordinary people and communities to be heard on matters affecting the environment in which they live and to have access to justice.
In a recent newsletter they continued with their interviews with prominent ELF people, speaking to Diana Schumacher OBE, Vice President and Co-founder.
Diana with her long involvement in setting up environmental organisations, speaks for herself.
What role do you play in ELF?
I am the youngest of ELF’s three founder members and original trustees, together with Martin Polden and the late Professor David Hall. I still serve as a trustee and am now vice-president.
What is your relationship to ELF and what brought you into the Environmental Law field?
I am not a lawyer and sadly know little about environmental law itself. In the 1980s I had been engaged in setting up various pioneering environmental organisations and think- tanks such as the Schumacher Society; Schumacher College; The All Party Energy Group (now The All Party Environment Group); The Green Alliance; The New Economics Foundation (nef); and was involved with various others.
I gradually began to realise that most environment and development issues were being determined largely on the grounds of “economics”. This effectively meant that large industrial, business and development interests were able to override local community and environmental considerations, and unfortunately, this situation still exists today.
Then, in the mid-eighties one such development occurred in my own village of Godstone in Surrey, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), some of which was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and which resulted in a two-year Public Inquiry. A multinational company was seeking permission for open cast mineral extraction to mine Bentonite for export. Although the planning application was eventually withdrawn, it left the local community with debts of several hundred thousand pounds in paying off legal and other professional fees, and with the interest on loans, it took many years of begging and fundraising events to pay off these debts! It had been a ‘David and Goliath’ situation, and in this case David won, but the unfairness of the financial inequality was obvious.
It occurred to me that begging letters, sponsored walks and knitting tea cosies were not the answer! What was needed to resolve similar issues was a partnership between those involved with local environmental concerns, and scientific professionals and lawyers who were willing to give pro bono advice in defence of the environment.
Although environmental law was in its infancy in the UK at the time, compared with some countries such as New Zealand and certain states of Australia, there was an urgent need to have the legal profession involved in local decisions affecting the environment, and also to develop environmental law expertise and access to justice in this country.
I put these ideas to Professor David Hall, a friend, and at the time Chair of the Parliamentary Energy Group, and to Martin Polden, (a lawyer who had successfully helped me on a copyright case), and both agreed it was an idea worth exploring. In practical terms Martin obtained initial funding and the support of some key lawyers; David found us a small desk/cupboard and telephone/answer machine in his department at King’s College, London; and I contacted and encouraged various key environmentalists to serve on our committee, to become patrons, or to donate additional funding. Eventually after months of correspondence and meetings, ELF was born.
Do you have one particular area of Environmental Law that interests you?
No. Ultimately all aspects are connected and every development impacts on something – be it land use, air or water quality, noise pollution etc. These are for specialists to evaluate.
Do you think that Brexit is an opportunity for the environmental/conservation sector?
Definitely not, in that EU environmental legislation has in many ways protected the UK from further environmental degradation, despite the fact that there has not been enthusiastic implementation of the Aarhus Convention.
What do you see as being the three most significant challenges to Environmental Law in the future?
The fact that local communities are frequently unaware of their rights and unable to access environmental expertise; the fact that short term economic interests frequently obscure long term environmental preservation; and in the UK we do not have environmental courts.
What is your hope for the future of ELF?
I should like to see more publicity of our cases and a far greater public awareness of the benefits ELF can offer. Above all, we need more core funding to enable us to employ more staff, extend our outreach and take on more cases. Sadly, for us also, it comes down partly to economics!
Posted on September 10, 2018, in Diana Schumacher and tagged Brexit, Environmental Law Foundation, EU environmental legislation, Martin Polden, pro bono advice, Professor David Hall. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.