Public discussion documents : a level playing field for public participation in local government decision-making?
Several New Zealand political analysts have criticised public participation through written submissions for its inability to offer the general public any meaningful involvement in local government decision-making. In agreement with such a perspective, the hypothesis tested in this study is that PDDs do not provide a level playing field for public participation in local authority decision-making. The first step in examining this hypothesis is a review of several participatory theories, united by a deliberative desire to promote openness and inclusiveness in public decisions. This review culminates in the depiction of several essential conditions for a PDD to provide a level playing field. Thus, a level playing field is argued to require public involvement in the production of the document; the provision of a diverse range of perspectives in the document, which must be communicated in a comprehensible fashion; and finally that the public are not constrained from expressing their own judgements on an issue. After highlighting some potential barriers to the achievement of these conditions in the PDD process, it is noted that reasonably scant support exists for these conditions in the formal institutional framework for public participation. Whether this weak framework leads to the manifestation of barriers precluding level playing field conditions is tested in case studies of two recent PDDs produced by the Christchurch City Council (Central City: the Vision, and The Wastewater Management Consultation Report). In supporting the hypothesis stated above, it is concluded that time constraints (and in some instances vested economic interests) appear to preclude PDDs from representing an open, inclusive approach to decision-making.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordslocal government; public discussion documents; decision making process; public consultation; public participation; central city; wastewater
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