Craig Nelson is a 3rd year PhD student, and his presentation comprised a summary of his PhD project. The SWARMMS project is a multi-modal study in the South West of England, carried out by the consultants Halcrow Fox. Craig's ongoing studies into public consultation focus on the London - Exeter corridor, and in particular the Salisbury area. As background, he outlined the SWARMMS project, and the particular issues relevant to Salisbury which has had a longstanding wish for a by-pass. He advised that, following the multi-modal study, the Secretary of State has recommended road-widening.
Craig's PhD focusses on how the public were involved in the process, and whether this was effective. Public participation included workshops, exhibitions (both static and mobile), meetings, a newsletter, and an interactive website. Members of the public were invited via the website to nominate themselves to be involved in the consultive exercise, and they were then invited to attend meetings. In Craig's experience the first meeting was not particularly constructive as people focussed on local issues which were not directly relevant to the study. He was unable to comment on further meetings as he wasn't invited back! Most of the consultees represented County Councils, bus operators or pressure groups. There were very few people representing the views of the individual, these amounting to only 0.1% of Salisbury's population.
Both the consultants and Craig used questionnaires as part of their respective studies. In Craig's opinion the consultants' questionnaire was poorly distributed resulting in a response rate of under 8%, compared to his own direct approach (door-to-door) which had a response rate of up to 70%. His response rate dropped significantly following an unfortunately timed article in the local paper, warning people to beware of bogus salesmen on their doorsteps! Whilst still analysing the questionnaire, it has shown that the main reason for non-participation by the public is the time involved. Most of those who had heard about SWARRMS knew about it because of a local radio interview. However, many people in the Salisbury area were confused as to what SWARRMS was about, particularly as a local transport study had been carried out in Salisbury prior to SWARRMS. Also, many people were not interested in SWARRMS as it wasn't local enough. However, when questioned about participation via the internet, 35% of respondents said that e-participation would engage them, and 60% said that they would consider using the internet as a means of participation.
Whilst his studies are ongoing, he concluded that the general public was not well represented in SWARMMS, which may have been partly due to participation fatigue and the lack of good marketing. However, given that there had been an earlier transport study in Salisbury which had involved public participation, he also questioned whether anything was gained from this latest consultation exercise. He is still considering whether public participation affected the final plan, and indeed whether those who participated were an unrepresentative minority.
During the discussion that followed comparisons were made with approach used in the multi-modal study in the central belt of Scotland. The meeting was attended by the Scottish Officer, David Reid, who provided an update on current issues within the Institute and encouraged local members to consider becoming involved in the Institute at a Regional or Faculty level.
Thanks go to Marion Mackay for this report.
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