WHY INTERACT WITH CITIZENS
DURING THE DEVELOPMENT PHASE OF A PROJECT?
It is most often during the formal public consultation phase, dictated by legal requirements, that citizens are able to express, for the first time, their reservations about a project. When they raise concerns or objections at this stage, however, it can be more difficult for promoters to take them into consideration because the project is nearly finalized. It has already been the subject of intense appraisal, with significant sums of money having sometimes been invested in studies, plans and so on. “We should have paid attention to citizens’ concerns earlier; it would have saved us time and money,” is an oft-heard refrain.
The earlier the citizenry has the opportunity to voice their concerns, the easier it becomes to take their opinions and suggestions into consideration.
Generally, this way of proceeding offers the twofold advantage of increasing the odds that development projects integrate well with their surroundings and lowering the risks that they will be contested or rejected.
In the area of environmental concerns, government authorities traditionally encourage interaction with the public early in the process, and invite promoters to consult the citizenry as early as possible; i.e., at the impact study and other initial study stages. When the conditions for integration into the milieu are studied in this way, with the contribution of the public involved, the chances of projects gaining social acceptance are increased.
In the opinion of several promoters, although early-stage citizen interaction demands more resources and time, it is all the more effective in attenuating any difficulties they may face during the later stages of the project.
Incidentally, some Canadian cities promote this model, which enables the emergence of projects with strong community support.