Is the UK roll-out of ‘Smart’ Meters illegal?

Article 7 of the UN Aarhus Convention requires full and effective public participation on all environmental issues and demands that citizens are given the right to participate in the process and achieve justice on environmental matters.  As of 2 April 2013, there were 46 Parties to the Convention.  This takes in most of Western Europe and many of the former Eastern European former Soviet bloc nations.

Considering that the UK and Ireland are two of the signatories to this convention, is the roll-out of ‘Smart’ Meters – with no consultation or input from the public – a violation of Article 7 and, therefore, illegal?

UN ruling puts future of wind farms in Britain in jeopardy

Tribunal warns that the Government acted illegally by denying public participation
Margareta Pagano, the Independent
Tuesday 27 August 2013

Plans for future wind farms in Britain could be in jeopardy after a United Nations legal tribunal ruled that the UK Government acted illegally by denying the public decision-making powers over their approval and the “necessary information” over their benefits or adverse effects.The new ruling, agreed by a United Nations committee in Geneva, calls into question the legal validity of any further planning consent for all future wind farm developments based on current policy, both onshore and offshore.
The United Nations Economic Commission Europe has declared that the UK flouted Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention, which requires full and effective public participation on all environmental issues and demands that citizens are given the right to participate in the process.

The UNECE committee has also recommended that the UK must in the future submit all plans and programmes similar in nature to the National Renewable Energy Action Plan to public participation, as required by Article 7.The controversial decision will come as a blow for the Coalition’s wind power policy, which is already coming under attack from campaigners who want developments stopped because of medical evidence showing that the noise from turbines is having a serious impact on public health as well as damaging the environment.

Legal experts confirm the UNECE decision is a “game changer” for future wind turbine developments in the UK. David Hart, QC, an environmental lawyer, said: “This ruling means that consents and permissions for further wind farm developments in Scotland and the UK are liable to challenge on the grounds that the necessary policy preliminaries have not been complied with, and that, in effect, the public has been denied the chance to consider and contribute to the NREAP.”

The UN’s finding is a landmark victory for Christine Metcalfe, 69, a community councillor from Argyll, who lodged a complaint with the UN on the grounds that the UK and EU had breached citizens’ rights under the UN’s Aarhus Convention. She claimed the UK’s renewables policies have been designed in such a way that they have denied the public the right to be informed about, or to ascertain, the alleged benefits
in reducing CO2 and harmful emissions from wind power, or the negative effects of wind power on health, the environment and the economy.

Ms Metcalfe made the legal challenge on behalf of the Avich and Kilchrenan Community Council at the Committee Hearing in Geneva last December. She and the AKCC decided to take action after their experience of dealing with the building of the local Carraig Gheal wind farm and problems surrounding the access route, an area of great natural beauty.

The retired councillor said she was “relieved” by the UN decision. “We were criticised by some for making this challenge but this result absolves us of any possible accusations of wrong doing… The Government needs to do more than just give ordinary people the right to comment on planning applications; they deserve to be given all the facts.”

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesperson said:“We are aware of this decision and we are considering our response. Wind is an important part of our energy mix providing clean home
grown power to millions of homes. Developers of both offshore and onshore wind farms do consult with communities and provide generous benefits packages.”

The Aarhus Convention: What is it?

The Aarhus Convention, or the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, is named after the Danish city where it was first established by a UN summit. It sets up a number of rights for individuals and associations in regard to the environment. People can request to know the health risks linked to the state of the environment and applicants should be informed within one month of the request. It also ensures the public get a say in any environmental project such as a wind farm.

Public authorities must provide information about environmental projects, and those affected by such schemes must be told if they are going ahead and why.

Link to original article here

Our thanks to Dr Don Maisch for the article via UN Ruling on public participation on environmental issues has implications for the smart meter rollout in Europe | EMFacts Consultancy.

  1. You may be interested to know that in terms of wind farms, a Christine Metcaffe successfully took the UK to the EU that wind farms breached the Aarhus Convention.

    As it turns out, the UK has so far ignored the ruling, stating that the ruling effects the NRP (National Renewable Policy) wheeras Wind Farms although proposed as part of the NRP, did provide consultation on each application (which is bull if you have ever visited a wind farm consultation, basically all the pros and not the negatives).

    If Smart Meters are being proposed as part of the NRP, which it probably is under the misleading ‘reducing energy usage’, then the Aarhus Convention has already been breached, which IMO means that every single development, whether wind farms or smart meters that have been proposed through the NRP, are already in breach of the convention.

    You can read more at:

    PS – Keep up the good work

  2. That’s what I get for skimming the article and jumping straight to the comments. I see you’ve already covered the Metcaffe case and it’s implications.

    I would assume that smart meters are also in breach of the Aarhus convention, and although not much progress has been made regarding the NRP ruling, I do know that it is causing concern amongst legal circles as the full implications of what the judgement will truly mean for the UK policy and the projects that have been developed on the back of the NRP, have still to come to light.

  3. Regarding the claimed “public consultations”, I once lived in an area where a decision was made, with no local consultation whatsoever, to run a large gas pipeline through a public open space, albeit underground.

    We were never asked whether we wanted the pipeline. That had already been decided in secret. The “public consultation” consisted of a series of meetings supposedly to decide how the community wanted the compensation money to be spent.

    I say “supposedly” because there was never any intention that this money would benefit the local community in any way. Instead it was used to pay the wages of the people organising the meetings, which continued intermittently until there was no money left.

    EVERYTHING the government tells us is a LIE. Decisions are made in secret, and any “public consultation” is nothing more than a whitewash.

  4. The current local rags are telling us that, from February 2014, our borough (Bexley) will be kitted out entirely with Smartmeter for our water usage. I understand that Bexley is the first/pilot borough for this roll-out, which is expected to continue on into 2015. Both of the local papers are covering this topic for the first time, but I am not aware of any public consultation. Furthermore, I think the local authority have kept silent about this too. I have the last two quarterly issues of the Bexley Magazine and there is no mention of this huge Thames Water project. They must know about it, surely?!

    I don’t want to have a smart meter. What do I do about that?

    I would like to leaflet my area amap about the real issues with Smart-meters. Can you send me some leaflets if I give you my address?

  5. There’s a slight problem in that water meters are often located in the street which technically belongs to the local council and the pipe work belongs to the water utility — meaning you may not be able to legally challenge a water meter just on the grounds that you don’t want one. I ran into this problem when Southern Water fitted one for my home but the meter is not on my property. Is there a solution to this?

    • Hi Karl,
      There is no obligation – nor any law forcing people – to have a ‘Smart’ Meter.

  6. I asked OFGEM whether consumers had been consulted and whether OFGEM was satisfied with the revised British Gas Charter. Today I got this response from OFGEM, which suggests I ask DECC.

    As far as I can see, OFGEM are saying that the linked documents constitute a consultation for consumers and that OFGEM didn’t need to do any more, because it was government (Coalition Agreement) policy.

    But even more strangely, there are lots of OFGEM “consultations” still open while energy suppliers are rolling out Smart Meters….


    “…Thank you for your emails.

    As noted in our earlier correspondence with you, DECC leads the policy on the rollout of smart meters. The decision to implement smart meters was taken by Government.

    The Prospectus (link) and Response to Prospectus (link) set out the early stakeholder engagement undertaken as part of the Smart Meter rollout. Following various consultations in the policy design phase which ran between July 2010 and March 2011, the Government decided on a roll-out of smart meters.

    Ofgem regulates the gas and electricity markets in Great Britain. We have an important role in ensuring the interests of consumers remain protected both during the transition to smart metering and in the enduring framework.

    If you have further questions on the smart meter policy, we recommend you contact DECC at