Drawing inspiration from the Community Bill of Rights movement in the USA, the town of Falkirk in Scotland is leading the way in the UK by creating its own Community Charter, which maps the community’s values and vision for the future.
One of the drivers behind the Community Charter is the desire to prevent coal bed methane extraction in the area, due to great concern about the risks posed to local residents and local wildlife. Coal bed methane extraction is one of a number of gas extraction techniques, similar in some respects to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Over 3,500 formal objections have been lodged with the planners in relation to one energy company’s application to extract natural gas in the area, and it is now the subject of a public inquiry.
It is the first Community Charter to come into being since Earth Law Alliance member Polly Higgins and Isabel Carlisle of the UK’s Transition Network ran a workshop at Schumacher College in Devon earlier this year to establish a People’s Process for community self-empowerment, specifically for communities facing potential ecosystem destruction. Isabel Carlisle and Mothiur Rahman, also an Earth Law Alliance member, were instrumental in assisting the Falkirk Community in creating their Community Charter. A website is currently under development to share what thas been learned with other communities facing environmentally damaging developments.
Through listing the community’s tangible and intangible assets, the Charter sets out a clear vision of what the community values and wants to safeguard. It is not a legally binding document, but the intention is to give it legal effect through the planning process, by presenting it as a ‘material consideration’ that the planning authority needs to take into account in its decision-making. The Charter declares the sum total of the community’s intangible and tangible assets to be its ‘Cultural Heritage’ for assessment under the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. Importantly, the Charter recognises that nature has intrinsic value, and is not merely property. It invites local authorities and corporations to engage in participatory planning processes that give recognition to nature’s intrinsic value.
The Falkirk community has also created a Community Mandate that requires a review of planning applications for coal bed methane extraction in light of the ‘precautionary principle’ and for full consideration be given to renewable energy alternatives. “Our democratic and legal systems should be protecting our communities from harmful vested interests, not the other way around. That’s why it was felt a Charter was needed,” said Jamie McKenzie Hamilton, a local resident who has been involved in the creation of the Charter.
See Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas for more information about the campaign.