(P.30) An 'eco-yuppie' who is storming the gates from within

Financial Times ; 15-Feb-2000


Dan Bilefsky meets an establishment activist using the law to challenge controversial planning developments.


Philip Kolvin is an unlikely eco-warrior. He prefers designer suits to paint bombs and sandals. His favourite weapons are a legal brief and a mobile phone. And rather than forraging in underground tunnels with Swampy, he is more likely to be found delivering trenchant arguments in the House of Lords.

Sitting in the chambers of Anthony Scrivener, QC, the 38-year-old, Oxford-educated barrister is one of a new breed of eco-yuppies who can achieve in pinstripes what others do in combat boots. "We are palpably respectable, we know our rights, we know the law and we're not going to go away," he warns.

Next week , Mr Kolvin and fellow suburban warriors will demonstrate at UCI cinemas across the country against plans to build a 20-screen leisure complex in south London's Crystal Palace Park.

But while other groups resort to tactics such as abusive telephone calls and hoax bomb threats, Mr Kolvin stresses that the law, the internet and a phalanx of high-powered friends are his greatest assets.

"People know if they give money to us we're not going to give it to the Anarchist Revolutionary Party," he quips.

Mr Kolvin is not the only environmentalist to storm the barricades from the heart of the establishment. Earlier this month Birgit Cunningham, a self-declared "ecologist and socialite", threw a chocolate eclair at Nick Brown, agriculture minister; Mark Brown, scion of the Vestey meat empire, was arrested after his involvement in June's City of London riot; and Lord Melchett, an Old Etonian and executive director of Greenpeace, was arrested last summer for raiding a plot of genetically modified maize.

Lord Melchett argues that direct action and working within the system have always gone hand in hand. "I'm often asked whether

I've traded in my wet suit for a business suit or my business suit for a wet suit and the truth is that I've been wearing both for decades," he says.

With or without bespoke tailoring, a Rolodex of glittering contacts also helps. The Crystal Palace Campaign's team of legal heavyweights has included Michael Fordham, who acted against General Augusto Pinochet, and Leigh Day, the solicitors known for campaigns to win compensation for Japanese prisoners of war.

While planning approval for the development has not been rescinded, the team has succeeded in taking the case all the way from Bromley Council to the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights.

Such a barrage of judicial fire power is expensive and Mr Kolvin has discovered a novel way to foot the bill. "An insurance company agreed to underwrite the campaign. The fact that we could sell ourselves as competent professionals was a big help."

Beyond the legal muscle, Mr Kolvin says the internet has been the campaign's main weapon for mobilising support. "Because of our web site every institution in the land has heard of us and they are worried," he says.

It is a tribute to the effectiveness of the pinstripe brigade that "planning lobbyists" have emerged to advise local authorities on how to deal with controversial developments.

Jenny Marshall, director of Carmague, which has advised Sainsbury and McDonald's, says: "Professional campaigners represent a growing challenge to the corporate sector. We help present the case of the silent majority, whose arguments can be drowned out."

Regardless of their influence, the question remains whether Mr Kolvin and his colleagues are commited eco-warriors or affluent Nimbys masquerading as environmentalists.

In his defence, Mr Kolvin says: "There's no element of snobbism here. A 950-space rooftop carpark in a park is not environmentally sustainable. It's poor people who will suffer."

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