Public participation prior to and during the EIA process : Transnet Case Studies
Schoeman, Biancé Elizabeth
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Since the global introduction of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the importance of public participation (PP) in environmental decision-making (EDM) has been widely acknowledged. The implementation of the traditional EIA process which allows for a unilateral decision making approach has created various obstacles for effective PP. Numerous definitions have been developed for PP and include the requirement for a continuous and increased exchange of information and an opportunity to impact and/or influence decision making. The objective of PP is to provide opportunities for stakeholders to raise their interests and concerns regarding their desired outcome, and thereby to increase the quality of decision-making. The PP process in EIA is, however, often viewed by developers as a regulatory ―add on‖ or ―tick the box‖ exercise, which limits its value. Public participation is currently not implemented throughout the project lifecycle, and concerns and interests raised by the interested and affected parties (I&APs) are often not considered and therefore have a limited impact on the decision making. Literature has focused on the effectiveness of PP and the role that the public plays in the EDM, but little attention has been directed at the timing of public participation in decision making, specifically in mega infrastructure projects. The aim of this research is to investigate the need for PP in the early project phases prior to the EIA process in Transnet SOC Ltd case studies in South Africa. Research objectives include an investigation of the perception of PP prior to and during the EIA, an examination of the influence of PP on the proposed development and decision-making and an evaluation of whether PP prior to the EIA enhances the prescribed EIA PP process. It was found that there is indeed a need for PP in the early project phases prior to the EIA process. Furthermore, the study found that that the public has a limited, if any, influence on the final decision and therefore there is still a widespread concern regarding the limited integration and consideration of concerns and interests raised by I&APs in the EIA and the final decision. The study also found that PP prior to the EIA process is perceived as enhancing the EIA PP process but further and more detailed research is recommended to investigate to what extend PP prior to the EIA actually enhances the prescribed EIA PP process.