Cover image: Every Voice Counts

Every Voice Counts

Tom Brenan, Environmental Law Foundation

The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) is a charity assisting local communities around the UK seeking environmental justice, and we're delighted to be a partner in the ‘How will you reboot the future?’ campaign.

Our Young ELF programme aims to encourage the next generation of public interest environmental lawyers. In addition to free legal support, ELF’s work includes public legal education, providing communities with the tools and knowledge they need to have an effective voice in environmental decision making. This can take many forms and the opportunities for public participation are highlighted by Jay’s story in the Reboot campaign. 

There are many roles to be played and any campaign group will be strengthened by a diversity of skills, interests and backgrounds.

Many of the enquires that ELF receives relate to development, such as the potential loss of green space, the impacts on wildlife, an increase in traffic with resulting effect on air quality, or the need for new buildings to be more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint, for example. Communities are often concerned about development proposals and what they can do about them. ELF seeks to demonstrate what their options for action may be.

Within the current planning system which governs development around the country, there are a number of opportunities for public involvement. These can be during the formulation of planning policy (e.g. a local plan or neighbourhood development plan) or in relation to a particular planning decision.

As a member of a local community, whether as a school or on an individual basis, you have the right to make your views heard and, in turn, to help shape your local environment.

Alternatively, it may be possible to challenge a local authority decision in court by way of judicial review.

The range of topics that ELF assists with is diverse and an enquiry frequently has many elements. A recent example is that of Sustainable Food Knighton, a local group campaigning for sustainability, ethics and environmental considerations in food production. The group were concerned about plans for two intensive poultry units in the countryside near their town. Lawyers from ELF’s network prepared a judicial review challenge to the council’s decision to grant permission for the units, based on a number of grounds. These included the failure properly to address: concerns about great crested newts (a protected species); air quality impacts on nearby parkland trees; the negative effects of the spreading of poultry manure; and the impacts of climate change.

The council agreed to quash the decision after the court had given permission for the challenge to proceed.

While in such cases, a subsequent planning application may be made, this will provide further opportunities for members of the public to make their voice heard before a decision is taken and, generally, one would anticipate a better decision.

Jay’s film also demonstrates the network of environmental decision making, from the local (via a parish council for example) through to national and international influence.

Every voice counts and we all have an opportunity to be involved.

ELF recognises the importance of involving young people in these decisions and seeks to enable mechanisms to facilitate their participation. 

ELF supports the fundamental and urgent requirement that every community, and generations to come, should live without harm to other living things, or damage to the ecological balance of the planet.

The need for action becomes more pressing by the day. As Jay says in the film:

"You have a chance to start making a difference. Why would you choose to do anything else?"

Our five top tips for rebooting the future:

  1. Understand the current system
  2. Look for opportunities to influence change
  3. Collaborate with others
  4. Learn from examples of action taken elsewhere
  5. Seek environmental justice for all