Are Parish Council’s at the forefront of local environment protection?

By Emma Montlake

Are Parish Council’s at the forefront of local environment protection? Environmental Law Foundation case for Parish Council secures the position for Aarhus costs protection.

Crondall Parish Council, supported by the Environmental Law Foundation has won an important case this week, not only protecting local nature, but importantly having already secured the position of Parish Councils, entitling them to rely on Aarhus costs protection when seeking to challenge public body decisions that affect the environment.

Parish Councils are increasingly finding themselves at the forefront of local environmental protection. As the first tier of local government, they are at the grassroots of local decision making. ELF is receiving increasing enquiries from PC’s wanting to challenge decisions of local authorities, as the pressure on small villages for house building, increasingly outside of the village development boundaries, intensifies.

Importantly for ELF the question arose, whether a parish council is a “member of the public” and therefore entitled to rely on the access to justice provisions in the Aarhus Convention. The Secretary of State had argued that a parish council cannot be a “member of the public” because it has the characteristics of a “public authority” for the purposes of the Convention. Rejecting this argument, John Howell QC ruled when granting permission in November last year, that these categories are not mutually exclusive. A Parish Council can be both a member of the public and a public authority for the purposes of the Aarhus Convention depending upon the context, and it will be a “member of the public” when relying on the access to justice provisions, like in this case.

This week the court decided that the decision to grant housing development outside the settlement boundary, with potential impacts on the Thames Basin European Protected site, had not been properly assessed. The court quashed the decision.

Aarhus Cost Protection in environmental judicial review claims means that in public interest cases such as protecting nature and greenspace, the costs of losing the case and having to meet the other side’s costs, were prohibitive and could see people losing their homes. This case means that as well as communities and individuals, Parish Councils, when considering judicial review, in environmental case, can now also rely on this financial protection.

Emma Montlake of the Environmental Law Foundation said, “This is an important decision not only confirming the position of how you assess environmental impacts on important nature sites, but the financial position for Parish Councils has been secured for future environmental law challenges.

Robert McCracken QC, instructed Counsel said of this case, “England will be a much better place because you and Horatio won an Aarhus costs protection order for a parish council. Warm beer will taste better, the sound of leather on willow will be sweeter, and spinsters will cycle to early communion with easier hearts.”