On Thursday, June 1st, both the Shields Gazette and Newcastle Journal reported comments by Andrew Sugden of the North East Chamber of Commerce, who criticised the granting of Legal Aid to green campaigner Bryan Atkinson for his legal challenge against the murky goings on behind the Environmental Impact Assessment for the second Tyne road tunnel.
Instead of moaning about the meagre funding granted for Bryan Atkinson's action, Andrew Sugden should aim his ire at the Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Authority for squandering millions in public money on a folly which would prove to be an environmental catastrophe. In criticising the use of Legal Aid, the NECC is effectively declaring that access to justice should be the preserve of the rich.
Rather than being an "essential transport development", the tunnel would prove to be an environmental burden to local residents, exacerbating health problems in an area already blighted by A19 and tunnel traffic. The tunnel fails on sustainability terms - the extra traffic attracted will further contribute to the UK's growing carbon dioxide emissions at a time when we should be trying to reduce them.
The TWPTA and Government argue that the tunnel shouldn't be subject to a fully rigorous and detailed Environmental Impact Assessment. However, it's clearly in the public interest to resolve the issues behind the case, which will impact on future large-scale developments, from roads to nuclear power stations. It's paradoxical that the bigger the project, the less expectations there be from the EIA.
The TWPTA enjoys massive financial resources courtesy of the public purse, whilst a citizen without money can only oppose this juggernaut by relying on limited Legal Aid funds to cover the high cost of barristers and solicitors.
The tunnel case is a grossly unbalanced environmental David and Goliath showdown. Hopefully Legal Aid will be the sling to Bryan Atkinson's pebble.
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