Public consultation and participation is essential to the successful planning of developments. Inadequate public consultation often leads to unnecessary conflict and costly delays to projects. Consultation which is thorough, open and substantive rather than ritual or symbolic, can play a large part in the success and acceptance of proposed developments. Investing in public consultation during the early planning stages often avoids lengthy and costly delays due to controversial objections and appeals.
Benefits of good public consultation include:
- Creating awareness and understanding of the proposed development, both locally and nationally
- Incorporating local knowledge and values into decision making
- Increasing local trust
- Reducing conflict
- Achieving cost-effectiveness
In line with Local Agenda 21, consultation is considered to be an integral part of any environmental study. In order to gain maximum benefit from consultation it is necessary to incorporate this process at the very outset of a project. Consultation involves different stages and levels depending on the nature of the project in question. It may involve technical as well as public consultation. Pre-planning consultation with planning authorities is a statutory entitlement under the Planning and Development Act, 2000 and is often sought by developers.
Projects with sensitive environmental aspects present specific challenges to the public consultation process. Environmental issues tend to encompass local as well as broader issues and inevitably involve uncertainty, particularly in relation to risk assessment. As such, public consultation often requires careful planning and management.
Scott Cawley has experience and capacity in dealing with public consultation on sensitive developments. Consultation is involved in much of our work, from EIAs and pre-planning consultations to Site Selection studies for proposed developments. In many cases successful consultation has led to the granting of planning permission with no objections. Examples of recent successful public consultation exercises are described below.
Port Site Selection Study
Scott Cawley, as members of a team led by Baxter Eadie Ltd., were appointed by the Drogheda Port Company to address the environmental issues of a site selection study for port expansion plans. A substantial part of this remit was the undertaking of an open and wholly inclusive consultation process, within a study area stretching 35km along the eastern seaboard from Dundalk, Co. Louth to Skerries, Co. Fingal.
The project involved three distinct phases; constraints assessment, site selection assessment and preferred site assessment. Over 150 consultees were identified and contacted by letter, follow up telephone calls and individual meetings. The consultation list covered such sectors as local government, local residents, non-governmental organisations, and commercial interests.
Consultation highlighted the objectives of the study and input was received from consultees on a range of environmental, social and economic issues pertinent to the study area. The consultation produced an exhaustive set of constraints and opportunities encompassing ecology, coastal erosion, marine, archaeology, land use, air, noise and landscape and visual impacts. This led to the identification of areas which had the highest constraints and those which could lend themselves better to a port development. An open day site visit to eleven potential site locations was attended by interested parties.
The Tuam, Longford and Enniscorthy Bypass Schemes required extensive public consultation during the constraints study and route selection stages. The final Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) stages for these schemes are on hold due to budget reviews but are expected to resume later this year.
The constraints studies involved consultation with statutory consultees and other relevant organisations in identifying major constraints within the surroundings of Tuam, Enniscorthy and Longford. This highlighted the major constraints likely to influence the schemes in terms of land use, ecology, geology and geotechnics, hydrology and hydrogeology, air quality, noise, cultural heritage and landscape and visual impacts. The consultation process involved numerous public information days which fed into the findings of the constraints and route selection stages.
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Rural Research Project
The Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Community Forum wanted to undertake an assessment of organisations operating within the rural area of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. Scott Cawley conducted desktop research and field surveys via site visits and telephone calls in order to develop a database of community organisations operating within the rural area; culminating in a database of 98 organisations including detailed specifications regarding their current activities and specific requirements.
SEA/EIA Training and Management for statutory and other bodies
Scott Cawley are regularly invited to provide training courses, lectures and participate in seminars in Ireland. Paul Scott is a visiting lecturer at University College Dublin and has also provided training to Heritage Officers, EPA Inspectors and senior civil servants.