Submission For Public Consultation by Pauline Bleach

By October 7, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Here is our submission into the Public Consultation on “Public Consultation”.  It shows how the 8 Magic tricks to ensure the Public does not have it’s say.  Created by Pauline Bleach.


Submission

Draft Consultation Principles/Guidance

for

Public Consultation

One has to wonder why with the “largest public consultation in the history of the State”*, we still managed to embed a motorway in the side of one of our largest National Monuments “Rath Lugh”

 

 

 

*Bertie Ahern

 


 

Draft Consultation Principles/Guidance

 

We at TSPG applaud and welcome the government’s aims

  1. Promoting open data and transparency
  2. Building citizen participation
  3. Strengthening governance and accountability to rebuild public trust in Government.

But this document seems to be more of the same aspirations rather than concrete measures to ensure decisions are made for the greater good. Aspirations will fall at the first political hurdle. We will use our experience which we are sure is similar to others to highlight the problems with aspiration.

The M3 case is a good example of the practical issues that affect public consultation which was weighted to get the right answer and then ignored “as not a legal requirement” when the public after much digging found it suggested a different route.

In trying answering the question on the front page of our submission, TSPG member Pauline Bleach did an analysis of the planning hearing to understand “Were there some reasonable facts supporting An Bord Pleanala’s decision?” (See Appendix A)

The answer was a very clear no.

In fact, the Bord’s decision was grotesquely bizarre giving Archaeology as the main reason for choosing this route when the person who did the archaeology Conor Newman and the Discovery Programme, the Government Body who supported that archaeology testified quite clearly it was the “worst possible route”. Depressingly, it was also legal.

So to achieve our aims of meaningful public consultation.

Tricks to make Citizen’s participation meaningless

What are the magic tricks that make the testimony and work of an awful lot of our citizens, who spend many hours unravelling documents and papers to get the facts, irrelevant? And even more bizarrely disregard the testimony of not only its own top Archaeological body but Margaret McGowan, the NRA archaeologist expert witness who testified that “from an archaeology perspective” there was a clearly more viable route than the EPR only to find the reason for the route was “Archaeology”

Trick 1: Remove the main issue from the public consultation

We have a corrupt system, “corruptus” to “make bad” does not require money to change hands, simply for decisions to be made to the detriment of our society.

When public consultation raises an issue which is of vital relevance to the case but it can be dismissed because it is not a matter for the consultation. Example: In a consultation about what length of leg to cut off, the fact that the leg could be saved as the gangrene was now responding to a new antibiotics should not be disregarded.

Trick 2: Guidelines are not legal requirements.

This guidance, which does not have legal force, does not prevail over statutory or mandatory requirements to consult certain groups on certain issues”

When public consultation was proved to be weighted and that the majority of respondents had chosen a route outside the Tara/Skryne valley. It was ignored as “not a legal requirement” Note: also the multiple reference types in document making it difficult to read – Orange or A.

Mr Hamill also stated “that it was also stated the preferences of those favouring Routes E or F were double any other option but said his analysis showed first preferences of A as 75, B as 9, C as 17, D as 7, E as 34 and F as 64. “ So that would make A (Orange route West of Tara) as most preferred first preference and F (Pink route East of Skryne) as second on first preferences. The central corridors, B and C (Green Routes East of the N3) and D and E (Blue routes west of N3) seem startlingly less popular.

Trick 3: Consideration rather than Fact based findings.

In any private body, decisions are based upon facts. Irish law on road planning only asks them to “consider” other routes, i.e. the ultimate decision is based on the whims of a few. The failure of our laws and processes to enforce substantiated fact based decisions is one of the main reasons “we are where we are”.

Public consultation is irrelevant unless it can rely on fact-based decisions. If a member of the public raise a fact it needs to be dealt with by either investigating, proving it false, showing other facts override it, or result in a change of plan. It should not be ignored.

Shiela Bradley, Dowdstown, Garlow Cross, Navan : “She concluded by saying there was a black spot in the valley where the motorway was to be built from the summer fog that regularly occurred, which she felt would cause accidents on the road.”

In fact 5 months after the motorway opened, there was a fatality in fog conditions at Blundeltowns. This issue has not been addressed despite repeated emails to Meath Co.co, NRA and the Minister for Transport.

Trick 4: Shower them with paper and only publish the summaries.

TSPG is in strong agreement that the cost should be kept to down to anyone brave enough to put in the work on the belief that their opinion will make a difference. All documents and base data used should be available online and free to download. Copies should be available to be viewed at local libraries for free. Libraries could order on request. Because despite all the odds being stacked against them our citizens are still putting in many free hours trying to unravel the paper trails of government. Without access to all the information they cannot rebut. In the M3, the costs of the EIS etc. was unaffordable to all but the most dedicated and then it did not include the required information.

“Mr. O’Donnell [Objector on behalf of Dalgan Park] questioned the competence of the various witnesses that had given evidence for the Council on the Drumshaughlin to Navan Section in relation to the approach taken, the level of detail addressed and the conclusions reached and suggested that, in most of the areas discussed, there had been a more appropriate route considered at the route selection stage.”

The Planning Board stated that he “had [not] offered any rebutting evidence“.

Many people objected that the information needed to dispute the EIS was not present in it and the council failed to co-operate in providing it.
The Bord agreed – “This issue is not a matter for consideration in relation to the Road Development itself. However, from the frequency it was raised at the Hearing it is something that the Council might wish to consider in the context of the procedures used when responding to queries from the public, and as a part of their focus on customer service”

Trick 5: Consulting on an apple then presenting an orange.

People were consulted on a dual-carriage way and their views were then transferred to a motorway. This should not be allowed.

Trick 6: That the conclusions reached can be used as proof

This is as strange as it seems. But this principle was also accepted by An Bord Pleanala where the discredited* “core zone” argument was used as a reason to accept the route. *given that this was discredited by Conor Newman on whose work it was misinterpreted from.

“Mr. Magee [Objector Meath Road Action Group] asked for proof of the residents being a major factor in the decision and Mr. Guthrie said the proof was in the conclusions of the report since they had selected the blue route in preference to the pink route.”

Conclusion: “I am satisfied that the route as proposed would not have a significant impact on the archaelogical landscape associated with the Hill of Tara, as indicated by the area designated as the core zone”

Trick 7: The disappearance of evidence, witnesses and conclusions that are not supported.

One would assume there would be a few discrepancies in any major report. But it seems unacceptable that the Public comes to a hearing to complain that the documents and information supplied were well below what anyone would call a “clear professional” standard and An Bord Pleanala agree with them.There should be a standard of information and professionalism that is legally binding. Anna Kilfeather who did the archaeology for the NRA and gave the Orange route a severe rating moved to the Discovery Programme from Margaret Gowan’s company and somehow was unable to be available to explain her results. Those who perform the work should be available to answer to it at the planning hearings, if required.

Trick 8: That there is no independent adjudicator to apply common sense.

Our tax payers were hit for a bill of over 1 billion Euro for archaeology costs to slash a line of destruction over a 7000 year old archaeological landscape. But at each stage of consultation the public made the right decision, the orange route. At the hearing, the public showed very clearly the flaws in the process and the conclusions reached.

But there is no clear and independent adjudicator to determine the facts of the case and reset a process that has gone, for whatever reasons, in the wrong direction.

The factually case of the M3 was, the Blue route did not stand up. There was only one clear alternative the Orange route. The only factor the Orange route scored less on, was Archaeology.

Purely on factual analysis, the correct decision by “An Bord Pleanala” was

  1. Order the NRA etc. to come back with a thorough analysis of why the Orange route was disregarded.
  2. Recall Conor Newman as representative of the Discovery Programme, to whether the Orange route was an acceptable archaeologically as a compromise route or whether a geophysical survey should be done to compare the Orange and Blue routes. All base data should be availably publically* *In this case it wasn’t.

An independent analysis of this should be presented and if necessary disputed.

Surely an appeal to independent arbitrator of fact, could have reset this process so it was based on the facts presented.

 

Antidotes to the Tricks that make Citizen’s participation meaningless

We all know citizens can be painful things. There is a valid argument about how long it takes to do things and the people who continue to waste time.

However we have a serious problem where citizens believe all government to be corrupt in the “to make bad” sense.

This will not be addressed by guidelines that can be cherry-picked and depend on the good-will and integrity of the person(s) running the public consultation.

The case of the Tara LCA shows how a vocal group (from any side) can derail a public consultation process. (Appendix B) This behaviour is unacceptable whoever it comes from.

It is useful to everyone to have a fact based system with an independent arbitrator of facts, who referees only on the facts and processes, not the merit of the case.

Trick 1: Remove the main issue from the public consultation

The antidote to this is to allow issues to be raised in a “Pertinent Issues section” at the start of the public consultation whether on paper, in person or at a hearing.

  • These will be dealt with before the hearing starts and can be referred to the independent arbitrator of facts.
  • Process issues could be discussed as to whether they had affected the case or were merely procedural mistakes that had no bearing on the outcome.
  • This may allow the consultation to be expanded to include this issue.
  • This may delay the consultation until these issues have been addressed.

As for Trick 1, this document itself which is an honest attempt to address the aims of your document and the issues TSPG members and members of the public experienced during public consultation may itself be dismissed as not commenting on the actual document. Because while great work has been done on the document in question, we understand that work will often be wasted in practice.

Examples may be lack of information, the law is wrong, they were consulted on an apple and this was applied to an orange.

Personal note: To me the issue of fog at Blundelstown interchange still haunts me, especially as the planned T1 service station is now ensure more people may be stopping near there. So far none of these concerns have been addressed except in a facetious fashion – “One of our engineers’ drives along that section, there isn’t a problem”. But someone died in fog there when they had to stop early morning for help. To my knowledge no proper examination of this issue has ever taken place, an assessment which remained nameless. I would be considered a pain but this is people’s lives. See Appendix C

Trick 2: Guidelines are not legal requirements.

If a person bothers to fill up a questionnaire or a survey, their opinion, and it is only that, deserves to have some merit. It is not the whole story but it is an important part of the story. Allowing them to be dismissed without substantiation is not valuing but demeaning the genius of our people.

Without some sort of legislative framework, the public consultation system is worthless. Adhering to process at the expense of the outcome is why we’re paying 28 million in traffic guarantee fines.

This anomaly was accepted by An Bord Pleanala as the Council representative Mr Butler testified that there “was no requirement in law for what had now developed as public consultation.” He further submitted on due process “that guidelines were guidelines and were not strictures or statutory requirements.”

Surely when Public Consultation takes place at any level, a legal framework is required for the ability to raise issues and facts and that the issues and facts raised to be examined and to be part of the decision process. It seems merely polite.

Trick 3: Consideration rather than Fact based findings.

Consideration is hardly a good measure to build any system as it is merely a thought process, not a substantiation of the facts, issues, opinion and evidence in front of them. Substantiation allows a challenge whereas Consideration keeps power with the person making the decision.

If processes were changed to ensure all consultations need to substantiate their findings, it would allow for an arbitration based on facts.

Strangely, substantiation does apparently apply to the public who have neither the resources nor apparently all the information as Mr O’Donnell of Dalgan Park found.

The government stakeholders with all their resources, have no legal requirement to substantiate or to give the information to the public to allow them to substantiate their claims. It feels a bit like this.

Trick 4: Shower them with paper and only publish the summaries.

Trick 5: Consulting on an apple then presenting an orange.

Trick 6: That the conclusions reached can be used as proof

Trick 7: The disappearance of evidence and conclusions that are not supported.

Consultation processes should be honest, clear and fact driven.

Understanding consultation documents and the underlying data and evidence should be an easy process for person of average intelligence. Where expert evidence is given such as geophysical data, it should be available for independent analysis.

Processes, Documents and presentation should be to the highest professional level with the data summaries reflecting accurately the underlying data, which is readily available.

Where issues with reports or data are identified, these should be corrected in the pre-hearing consultation stage and the corrected documents re-issued.

As above all data available to the government stakeholders should be freely available to the public.

Trick 8: There is no independent adjudicator to apply common sense.

When we have meaningful consultation, we need to get a process that not only address real concerns but gets the best outcomes. Lengthy and expensive court cases are in no-ones interest. Neither are the sort of debacle that was the M3 Consultation and Planning hearing.

So our feedback is that while guidelines are useful, they need to be brought into a legal framework that ensures that the process supports their aspirations of this document while making the process efficient.

An independent adjudicator who examines documents, and ensures that decisions were substantiated and based on fact.

Pre-Consultation – Ensures documents and data are available, fair and clear. Ensures prior decisions are clearly explained and substantiated.

Post-Consultation – Ensure that the outcomes reflect the facts presented and examines any discrepancies with regard to process and information being available.

Recommend and enforce the principles of addressing concerns for the best outcome based on substantiated evidence. And to call for new investigation to be done if necessary to make the correct decision.

When a consultation takes place

Stage 1: Pre Consultation

  • Ensure all documents and data are available to the public at minimum three weeks before, depending on its complexity. This should happen whether this is a questionnaire or EIS and data. These should not take place over holiday periods unless prior warning has been given.
  • Ensure that decisions already taken are explained clearly and substantiated.
  • If there is complaint that information is incomplete or if the public want to dispute a decisions taken already.
  • An independent adjudicator examines any complaints and documents to ensure they are at a complete and a fair representation according to best practice, and all the prior decision have been substantiated and stand up against any complaints raises at this stage.
  • If these do not meet requirements that they should be an easy process for person of average intelligence and that for expert reports that the data is available for examination, the process should be halted until these issues have been resolved.

Stage 2: Consultation

  • Public consultation should be done only on complete, easily understood documents where decisions taken to this point have being substantiated and explained or can be easily accessed.

Stage 3: Post Consultation

  • An issues with the public consultation can be taken up with the Arbitrator.

How would this work practically? M3 Example.

Stage1: Pre-consultation, the adjudicator would have

  1. Made the NRA/Meath Council rewrite their documents to a professional standard so summary matrixes reflected the reality.
  2. It would have made all the Geophysical data available to Conor Newman.
  3. Would have ensured that the NRA/Meath Council substantiated the decision on the Orange route.
  4. Would have examined the issue of the Public consultation, whether the previous public consultation differed substantially from the proposed scheme, missing questionnaires and weighted results. This may have ensured that this was re-run and complete results were available rather than weighted results.

 

In this case many of the issues would have been addressed before the expensive planning hearing. This ensures we reach the point of public consultation hearings with all parties fully informed with current facts.

 

     Stage 2: Public consultation

  1. At this stage, the information should be all there to make the decision
  2. In this case, the facts Conor Newman for Discovery Programme and Margaret Gowan for NRA testified that for archaeology was the worst possible route and that the interpretation of Conor Newman’s work was flawed should be considered along with the substantiated decision on the Orange route.
  3. Perhaps the results would still be the blue route for reasons of archaeology, flora and fauna, and houses. But at least this decision would have been properly substantiated.

Stage 3: Post-Consultation

  1. If the results were still dispute on facts, it could be presented to the arbitrator.
  2. The above reasons given for choosing the blue routes do not stand up to scrutiny as per Appendix A. The facts show Flora was negligible for all routes. And the Orange route was better on Houses.
  3. It could call on An Bord Pleanala to substantiate their reasons properly.
  4. It could call for a Geophysical survey to be done on the Orange route to clarify which route Blue or Orange were better for Archaeology.

You see the Adjudicator is a manager of facts and process. Allowing a fair consultation by ensuring that at each stage, the documentation and information is available and reflects accurately the case. That if the adjudicator fails to act as a there should be cheap fast legal option to enforce them to act before a judge.

 

Conclusion

Guidelines are indeed just guidelines if they have no legal framework to ensure that they are applied in a way to make public consultation meaningful.

In replying to this public consultation we have shown the issues our group members and other people involved with the Tara Consultation and Planning hearing, which we also consider to be a form of consultation.

In it we are opening the issue of innovation and participation by suggesting ways that these issues may be resolved without burdening the system with long delays.

We hope that these may be addressed in the current consultation which is we hope the first in which issues raised by the public will be treated with the seriousness that they deserve. Without putting the guidelines within any framework.

A second concern is the concept of public consultation verse private lobbying. Therefore all meetings between private groups or members of private groups and government stakeholders should be registered whether a personal or for the purpose of lobbying. Any gifts etc. and a register of any interests by people involved and lodged with the adjudicator, including any conference attendances.

These mean that people will register up front any interest conflicts and if this is raised later they can be examined. In the Post-consultation review, the adjudicator can examine whether theses may have influence their decision making.

We believe that in the future the Leinster Orbital will re-appear and all our objections which we’ve been making since we first saw the route, will be disregard since this the preferred route since 2010 or something. And we will have the same issues. (Appendix D)

We hope that our experiences will be informative in the ways which the balance between community and government can be developed in such a way to achieve the very noble aims of the “Draft Consultation Principles/Guidance

 

 

Appendix A: Analysis of the Planning Hearing public consultation

Appendix B: Derailed process by misinformation and bullying of County Council staff.

Incorrect fact which aren’t corrected by Political representatives.

This did not affect local planning, only large scale development.

After intimidation of Council staff, this basically stalled.

Appendix C: Fog Issue

2003 August 22nd   The Planning hearing passes the M3

2010 June 04th M3 opens               

2010 October 13th 6am Robert Carthy (42) of The Glebe, Kells dies at Blundelstown in Foggy Conditions at 6 am.

2011 May 11thAfter many letters to Minister asking for a proper assessment of the risk.

Rather than receiving a formal assessment, I get the impression this assessment was “sure Jim goes down that road and doesn’t have any problems”. No document was every proffered.

“susceptibility of particular sections of the M3 to fog have been assess by one of out Engineers who is a frequent user of the M3 and adjacent roads.”

2012 Nov 12th 6am Another fatal crash at Blundelstown. There is no indications whether fog was involved.

A male motor cyclist in his 40s was fatally injured when he lost control on his motorcycle and collided with a barrier at the Blundelstown Interchange near Garlow Cross. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

We still have no idea whether there is a fog problem and whether it will cause more fatalities.

Appendix D: Leinster Orbital impinging on a landscape area.

The Leinster Orbital route had to be pieced together to see its route properly. When it was it was obvious that this was not the correct route as it allows no development around the route and impinges on Tara, Bru Na Boinne and the Natura 2000 site.

 

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