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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public participation in an inter-agency committee : the Airport Planning Committee in Vancouver St. Pierre, Paul Robert

Abstract

The Vancouver Airport Planning Committee met from 19 73 to 1976 to examine the implications of an expansion of Vancouver International Airport proposed by the Ministry of Transport. The committee was an experiment for it included participation by eleven agencies, including eight from all levels of gov-^ ernment and three non-governmental organizations (two from industry, one from the general public). The committee concluded its activities with the release of a report presenting three decision options for further public discussion. The report is remarkable in the degree of disagreement among agencies that it displays. This study first presents four political models of public participation in the planning process. One of the models, agency-public joint planning, very closely matches the Airport Planning Committee. Then a number of normative criteria for public participation are developed, against which the experience of the committee can be evaluated. The case of the Vancouver Airport Planning Committee is presented, based on readings of reports, minutes of meetings, correspondence, memoranda, related documents, and interviews with participants. Application of the criteria to this committee process reveals a number of shortcomings, most serious of which was the failure to develop and assess alternatives which "expressed the full range of values represented on the committee. Further interpretation of the reasons for difficulties encountered in the process, reveals that the central factor was the narrow and rigid policy position adopted, by the Ministry of Transport when other agencies perceived the issue to be much broader. The narrow policy position was the result of an interpretation of the role of the committee as only to advise on measures to mitigate the specific runway proposed by MOT. Some other agencies believed that the committee's role was much broader, to study and advise on a number of alternative policies for managing the growing demand for air transportation services. Fundamental differences of values separated the agencies involved, so that the disagreement on the nature of the process was never overcome. Instead conflict characterized the committee process, conflict which is reported and recorded in the Final Report. Despite these problems the Airport Planning Committee was basically successful in expressing the range of views, and in generating relevant information on the runway proposal. Public participation was successful in stating a value position (characterized as the 'conserver' viewpoint) which governmental agencies did not express. However the committee process demonstrated an inherent flaw in the agency-public joint planning model. When a diverse set of values is represented within a small problem-solving group dealing with a single issue the necessary conditions for evaluation, bargaining, and decision do not exist. Conflict resolution must take place at the political level; it must not be expected of such a group. The appropriate and important role of such a group is to develop the relevant range of alternatives and to assess their impact on the values represented. This information must then be passed to the political level for bargaining and decision-making.

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