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 Although the planning application was eventually withdrawn, it left the local community with debts of several hundred thousand pounds in paying off legal and other professional fees, and with the interest on loans, it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!
Diana was responding to the riposte to Professor Minford made by Molly Scott Cato whose work she has long admired:
“She has made a much neglected point about all those small overlooked timing and communication factors which should be taken into account in any rational economic decision.
“However, in my view, the referendum decision of 2016 should have been debated much more fully and three-dimensionally beforehand.
“Brexit is essentially not just about economics, statistics and accountancy (which was, I believe, the main reference point), but about affirmation of much more lasting and enduring issues such as political and cultural unity, integrity, solidarity, harmony and mutual humanitarian support in the face of creeping materialism overruling basic human values”.
Colin has recently taken a lot of ‘flack’ because of his views on immigration rather than his economic prescriptions, but many post-election (Corbyn, Brexit, Trump) analyses now recognise the widespread anger on both counts.
Under the Guardian’s heading: Trump’s victory a wake-up call for Europe, he opens by saying that journalist Martin Kettle is correct (It is easy to hate the man, essential to learn from him, 11 November) that Trump will be the first president in recent times to be both anti-liberal socially and also economically.
Pointing out that the extreme right in Europe is going down the same electorally successful path, with policies geared to both limit immigration and replace globalisation, Colin sees them filling the vacuum left by the failure of the Democrats and the centre-left in Europe.
This was/is a failure to understand economic insecurity was the cause of voter dissatisfaction – and inadequately controlled immigration.
Trump and Farage offered a solution to worries about job losses with a promise to tear up trade agreements and oppose the TTIP and addressed widely held worries about levels of immigration. Colin ends:
“To have any chance of seeing off next year’s otherwise inevitable electoral rise of the extreme right in the Netherlands, France and Germany will mean that the centre-left, continent-wide, will need to develop a vote-winning programme for tackling both economic insecurity and uncontrolled immigration between EU countries.
“It must begin by calling not only for managed migration, but also demand controls on the free movement of capital, goods and services to allow the rebuilding of national economies, and to bring an end to the damaging deification of open markets, which has bought us Trump and Brexit and maybe next year a President Le Pen”.