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Public participation isn't just mindless negativity

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I sympathise with Arthur Quarmby over the rejection ofhis planning application ('When the mobs are demagogues', Technical & Practice, aj 2/9.12.99), but the attack on the practice of public participation in his article is unacceptable (quote: 'the mob is mindless, bullying and utterly predictable in its opposition'). If we met in a pub, there might be time to cover the many points he raised. For the moment, I'll refer briefly to my experience, as a local architect, in a community consultation project in Oxford. We found that:

1. The public do not 'know, every one of them, what is proposed under development legislation'. Local plans, for example, are too general to achieve this.

2. Councillors need to be lobbied and informed about local people's priorities, as well as getting advice from officers.

3. Public opinion is often, but not 'invariably', negative. The opinions we heard - the project dealt with the design and layout of a brownfield development (the principle of developing brownfield was accepted) - included support for modern, low-energy housing.

Any readers interested in what the project achieved can contact Building Alternatives, c/o cparrack@brookes.ac.uk

Peter Ledwith, Oxford

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