We cannot propose a ready-made ‘most efficient strategy’. After all, the consultation committee does not have clear and objective criteria on which it must base its advice.
However, this should not be a cause for discouragement, but rather an incentive to experiment creatively with the possibilities listed below. We know of numerous successful experiences.
Technicians and politicians will take the definitive decision about a plan or project. A good balance between the points listed below will determine the impact on that decision:
1. The nature and strength of the arguments
All kinds of arguments are allowed: Legal-administrative, technical town-planning, socio-economic, emotional, symbolic, etc. The consultative committee does not question your arguments. Neither does it need to deal with each remark and objection separately and respond by either accepting them or by giving grounds for refuting them.
Although all arguments are valuable, experience has taught us that arguments on legal grounds constitute a good basis. The authorities in Brussels all too often consider spatial planning from a legal point of view rather than from a global creative vision on the spatial needs, qualities and possibilities. Therefore, we recommend having a basic knowledge of the legal framework of the Brussels’ Town Planning.
2. The number of people that share a point of view
An individual reaction offers less scope to make an impact, unless you are an influential person or an eloquent speaker.
A collective reaction is more powerful. Try to collect many people and convince them of your point of view and arguments. You stand a better chance of influencing a plan or project, when you carefully prepare with as many partners as possible for the requirements of an intervention at the consultation committee.
Neighbourhood committee meetings offer the ideal opportunity to prepare those interventions. In the case of smaller projects on a local level, the influence of the residents on the advice of the consultation committee is generally quite considerable. The support of recognised interest groups, politicians, recognised experts etc. will underline the force of your demands.
3. Additional ways of lending support to objections
The options are a petition, a happening, a press release or a press conference, etc.
Try to use a full spectrum of actions. A petition with many signatures annexed to a letter has the value of one objection, but may exert a lot of political pressure. If the letter included with the petition states explicitly that all signatories to the petition request to make representations to the consultation committee, then they will all be called upon. Sometimes, the number of people may the deciding factor, but ensure that everyone has something to contribute. A press action may influence public opinion and that may have repercussions on the political decision-making and the opinion of the members of the consultation committee.
4. The form of the objection in proportion to the nature and size of the project
Each building plan or project influences the resilience of its environment. Depending on the nature and size of the project, the range of impact is the immediate neighbourhood or quarter, the commune or the region. It is important that you select reactions that are in proportion to the nature and the size of the plan or project submitted to the public inquiry. As resident, commuter or visitor of the neighbourhood, you are best placed to judge whether a project is compatible with its environment.
In the case of smaller projects limited to the neighbourhood, the influence of the residents on the advice of the consultation committee is generally fairly large. In the case of larger projects, in which public bodies and promoters often take the lead, the residents usually do not influence any positive or negative opinion. However, under the pressure of the remarks and objections, a revision of the project may be asked for or conditions may be imposed.
5.The way in which you explain your point of view
The best way of influencing the advice of the consultation committee, is by giving an oral representation of your remarks and objections during the meeting of the consultation committee. We have a clear impression that a written reaction on its own has less impact.
Here follow a few reminders:
Do not get caught out by being too negative in your reaction. Present a positive message and indicate the good projects in the neighbourhood as well. Make the necessary differentiations and remain constructive by making proposals for modifications, alternatives or different approaches.
See the bigger picture: do not act out of self-interest, but present points of view and arguments that are to everyone’s advantage, and that attest to a vision on the evolution in your neighbourhood.
Express your point of view and arguments clearly, but concisely. Quantity does not equal quality. Choose the right arguments purposefully and avoid referring to topics that are not relevant.
The time available to the members of the consultation committee is limited; sometimes, they need to deal with up to 20 applications a day. Therefore, be prepared for their request not to repeat information, but at the same time do not allow yourself to be intimidated.
Pay sufficient attention to a well-structured conclusion. Compose a concise note with a few points, in order to finish your argument by summing up the main points. Afterwards, hand a summary note of your most important arguments to the members of the consultation committee.
Do you want to find out which strategies some groups of residents in Brussels have used to put pressure on the policy? Have a look at our leaflet link Ook jij maakt de stad!