Memorandum submitted by Friends of the Earth (EN03)
We note your response to our memorandum to the Chair of the Planning Bill Committee. We are aware that it is not always fruitful to conduct written exchanges on issues of real principled disagreement. While our memorandum contains an accurate description of the effect of the Bill on the legal rights which underpin community participation we welcome the Ministers' statement that participation should be based on a return to first principles. In this regard we welcome the opportunity to set out why we believe important aspects of the Bill do not deliver a progressive participative framework.
At the heart of the matter is a principled disagreement about citizenship and governance. Leaving aside the issue of the direct democratic accountability of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, this disagreement surrounds two competing models of public engagement.
The Bill offers an 'involvement' model based on discretionary opportunities for the public to be 'consulted'. In the Bill formal rights have been reduced but there are new opportunities for consultation organised by the private sector at pre-application stage. There two key problems which both surround the issue of trust and legitimacy: the Infrastructure Planning Commission has to be trusted to make a series of decisions at their discretion on the need for and nature of oral hearings and management of those hearings. The open floor session is a public right to appear but not a right, as now, to ask questions, cross-examine, or produce witnesses. In our long experience of working with communities, trust is enhanced where the decision makers are obliged to ensure a meaningful role for communities in decision making.
Friends of the Earth is committed to a rights-based participatory model which secures both fairness and social justice. Participation is an entirely separate concept to consultation. It is an active rather than a passive notion with strong educative aspects for all participants. It requires honesty, continuity and crucially an understanding that community needs will have a powerful impact on the process. In order to secure the legitimacy of the process key rights are needed where the decision makers are obligated to allow individuals and communities to test evidence as equal partners in the process accepting that they have to abide by the outcome of the decision maker.
While we accept the Government's intent to deliver an efficient system for Major Infrastructure Projects, this system can only be workable if the public have confidence in the process. The current regime does not offer this confidence. It has not struck the right balance between the needs of business and needs of communities. We also urge you to consider an increased role for the Infrastructure Planning Commission in organising and arbitrating participation on schemes in ways which contribute to public trust.
Once again we hope you will find time to meet with us to discuss the important principles which the Bill raises.