A Community Energy scheme in the Forest of Dean following a successful planning application is now facing a High Court Challenge that could have repercussions across the Community Energy Sector.
In arriving at their decision, the council recognised the positive social, environmental and economic benefits the project would bring to the local area and communities as well as the high level of local support. In addition the approval was conditioned to ensure that the project could only be brought forwards as a Community Benefit Society (Cooperative) with surplus used for the benefit of the local community.
This decision is now subject to a Judicial Review
The basis of the High Court Challenge is seen as key to the continued success of Community Energy in the UK as action is being taken on two fundamental principles of Community Energy, namely:
- That Community projects can be given positive weight in the planning process, and in this case in giving positive weight in their decision making the Forest of Dean District Council planning committe acted unlawfully.
- That a Community Benefit Society (Cooperative) is not an appropriate legal entity under which to bring forwards such projects and cannot be considered to be a legal structure with overriding benefit to the local community.
Legal counsel have confirmed the case is an important milestone in UK Law as it involves some key important considerations:
- A high level of local public support for the project
- A public ownership model as a Community Benefit Society and whether this is an appropriate legal vehicle
- A community fund to channel surplus from the scheme into the locality
- A recognition that it is the positive social, environmental and local economic benefits for the community arising from the project and distribution of surplus that were important; and
- Government policy that is ostensibly supportive of community energy projects
All of the above factors are in different ways being challenged as having led, in some way, to an unlawful result.
The judgement that will arise from this case is very likely to be important in establishing case law and clear guidelines on what can be offered in the way of community participation and what can be taken as positive community benefits by councillors when making a decision. The format in which public participation can take place will be affected by this judgement.
The threat to the community energy sector is that a ruling could emerge which places additional constraints on the ability of the public to participate in renewable energy generation or renders the sector even more uncertain that promoters, public and decision makers are all deterred from participating in or supporting the sector.
A succesful outcome would establish a key new legal precedent for the community energy sector in the UK, allowing planning authorities to give clear positive weight to projects with overriding local community benefits.
One of the top barristers in planning and environmental law has agreed to represent the case, but as a community based enterprise with limited resources we cannot continue to fund this battle alone. We are, therefore, seeking support from all of those who recognise the many benefits that community owned energy can deliver, not just here in the Forest of Dean but nationally.
Please join the positive Crowd striving for justice in this case and for future community led projects that benefit local communities everywhere.
Once sucessfully over this hurdle the project intends to raise development funds via a community share offer, as for similar Resilient Energy projects to date. It is the intention of the board of Resilient Energy Severndale that all contributions received towards legal costs will be repaid in full from the project funds raised at that stage (assuming the legal case is won and the project proceeds). Alternatively contributors can opt to have their donations forwarded to our preferred charity www.10:10.uk.org
This project is using Flexible funding and will receive all pledges made by 11:37am 22nd March 2016
This page is also available in: Welsh