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 State struggles to adapt to changing behaviours and trends in public consultation and community engagement

 

There is an emerging trend across public consultation and community engagement activities that can be typified as “the rise of the silent majority” [source: Carol Tallon writing in the Council Journal on ‘Next Generation Public Consultation: Top 10 Public Consultation & Community Engagement Trends to Watch in the New Decade’]. In the past, the loud – and usually motivated – minority dominated the public consultation process, however, the use of digital placemaking tools is leading to a more democratic and inclusive process of opinion gathering that encourages all members of the community to get involved, irrespective of age, ethnicity or tenure of housing. The State, and indeed private project owers, are struggling to adapt to this changing trend.  Restricting the public forum will no longer work.

 

In an Irish Times article by Environment & Science Editor Kevin O’Sullivan earlier this week, it was predicted that the ‘Bill to tackle vexatious court challenges to planning proposals will backfire’ [link to the full article here: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/bill-to-tackle-vexatious-court-challenges-to-planning-proposals-will-backfire-legal-experts-1.4135891?mode=amp ].

 

Barrister Oisín Collins was commenting on the recently published heads of the Housing and Planning Development Bill that aims to overcome “vexatious” court challenges to planning proposals for new homes, buildings and national infrastructure. 

 

The barrister opined that the Bill would “row back on entitlements for groups and citizens won with help of EU law”. At a briefing by the Planning, Environmental and Local Government Bar Association of Ireland,  the legal expert noted that there was “an implication applicants are wasting everybody’s time” with little justification for this. He went further to say that by restricting access to comment and/or object to local planning applications, stakeholder challenges – including community groups and NGOs – will inevitably end up before the High Court or judicial review proceedings, which will lead to more lengthy and costly litigation. 

 

Also quoted in the article was UCC’s  Dr Áine Ryall who said the proposed reforms were in conflict with the State’s responsibility to ensure access to justice under EU law and the Aarhus Convention, that is “fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive”.

*Please note that the deadline for public consultation on the heads of the Housing and Planning Development Bill has now been extended to January 27th.*

 

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