Public Participation in UK Land-Use Planning: Empowerment or Social Control?
Aberdeen Business School Robert Gordon University Aberdeen, UK
It is increasingly common for environmental policies to contain commitments to public participation. It is widely presumed that greater public participation in decision-making processes will lead to more socially acceptable - and hence sustainable - decisions or projects. However, it is important to pay critical attention to what this participation entails, how it is facilitated and how it is experienced by both participants and facilitators.
UK land-use planning policies contain strong commitments to public participation, and as such this is one area which allows exploration of these issues. This paper will present the findings of a detailed, multi-method case study of one particular planning application (for a renewable energy development) in order to explore how commitments to public participation are translated into action. In particular, it considers the roles which different actors play, and the power that they exercise within the planning process.
In order to understand the many different forms of power which are exercised the research employs Lukes´ three-dimensional view of power as a framework of how the concept is to be understood. Through this framework, it considers the power of objectors and prospective developers but also the forms of power that are found within the structures of the planning system itself. Power is considered to be visible not only in the outcomes of decision-making processes but also in the processes themselves. It is shown that whilst planning processes are presented as being public and democratic, considerable power is exercised in controlling the participation that is allowed and ultimately the range of outcomes which can be achieved. Furthermore, it is shown that public participants play active roles in constructing and shaping their contributions. Thus, engaging with public views is problematic since these are not presented in straightforward ways. Participants´ contributions are not simple responses to the opportunity of democratic involvement, but rather represent active attempts to present lay knowledge in "credible" and "legitimate" ways. Thus it will be shown that facilitating meaningful public participation is highly problematic, requiring openness and transparency from both facilitators and participants.