Planning Democracy regularly hears from communities that have been involved in the planning process and feel that their participation is not valued sufficiently, or at times, local residents’ views are dismissed entirely compared with those of developers.
Are there ways local councils can improve engagement with local residents? We certainly think there is. Many examples trialled elsewhere provide some of the many possibilities for doing so. Citizen juries are one of these options that this post briefly explores.
Taking inspiration from courtroom juries where everyday citizens listen to evidence, deliberate and make decisions on legal proceedings, citizen juries apply the same concept to policy matters.
A recent report by ClimateXChange describes how a citizen jury format was applied to the case of wind farms in Scotland; interim findings found that 97% those who took part in the experience found it positive. Consequently, the researchers stated:
These positive evaluations suggest that citizens can engage with enthusiasm in deliberation about complex topics such as wind farm development, despite the considerable effort required by the job (page 15).
It is this faith in letting citizens be part of complex matters with the possibility of making recommendations, informed by experts who facilitate, guide and inform them along the way, that creates a unique format. For this reason, citizen juries have been described as spaces that enable both discussion and empowerment for those involved, whilst at the same time making difficult decisions and policy ‘problems’ more tractable .
So what about citizen juries and planning? Graham Smith’s report described the downside of juries is their small-scale nature. But perhaps this small-scale could be constructive if it were to be applied to existing planning processes in Scotland.
For example, in addition to using juries during development plan processes (such as those in Australia), there could be potential to use citizen juries to make recommendations on contentious planning applications. What if citizen juries were triggered after a certain number of objections were submitted on planning applications? If objectors were given opportunity to be part of a citizen jury specifically for a certain development, would this transform the development into one that is acceptable to local residents and not just the developer?
Additionally, Planning Democracy advocates bringing Equal Rights of Appeal (ERA) into the planning process. Could citizen juries also form part of the appeal process, particularly if requested by third party stakeholders such as community residents?
Developers and business leaders usually argue that interventions such as enhanced consultations, deliberation or ERA mean further bureaucracy and development delays, or that problems can be resolved by talking about things up-front (the Scottish Government’s position).
Additionally, in today’s globalized world it is quite likely that those who profit from development live quite far away from where this development is proposed. Local residents (or the environment) are those most negatively affected.
Local authority planners and councillors often do a very good job at dealing with difficult and very complex matters, but what happens when things fall through the net? Citizen juries have the potential to be inserted into all phases of planning, whether during development plan preparation, planning applications or appeals. Could citizen juries help mitigate negative effects of proposed development and approved (but disputed) planning applications?
There are many questions raised in this post; any new mechanism is dependent on how those who take part understand and use it. Furthermore, those who have final decision making powers (planners, councillors or ministers) would need to buy into juries’ recommendations for the process to be meaningful beyond the jury itself.
Two final questions: what do you think about the idea of a citizen jury? What do you think would work in your local area? Let us know!
Steiner, J. 2012. The Foundations of Deliberative Democracy: Empirical Research and Normative implications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Presspg 233
Author Graham Martin