Passenger Rail, Research & Development

Community politics crucial to success of transport planning: Study

M80 ring road. Photo: Creative Commons / MagpieShooter

A new study has highlighted the importance of community participation in controversial transport projects.

An RMIT Centre for Urban Research study entitled Is there a crisis of participatory planning? has investigated the transport planning process of the East West Link project, to challenge the idea that politics can be removed from infrastructure planning.

The report’s author, Dr Crystal Legacy, says the project’s eventual costly cancellation is evidence that politics can’t be removed from transport planning.

“In the case of the East-West Link, there was no political mandate to put this project as a top priority for Victorians,” she said.

“It appeared in Plan Melbourne with no public discussion.

“Yet this project became political and it formed part of the central platform for Daniel Andrews in the 2014 state election.

“Although Andrews was elected on a transport platform which included the West Gate Distributor, now in power, we have received an expanded version of what is now called the Western Distributor – an unsolicited proposal.”

Legacy is recommending a renewed focus on public debate and citizen engagement.

“A renewed focus will allow for greater scrutiny of the public benefits resulting from these projects, otherwise they will remain the focus of ongoing community conflict and lead to a lack of acceptance and cynicism,” she says.

Legacy’s report is based on interviews with 15 key protagonists from different community campaigns who opposed the controversial East West Link road project, as well as in-depth analysis of external resources including social media responses, policy documents and public hearings.

“The analysis of the East West Link case study also discusses how citizen’s participation may evolve with the political situation,” Legacy says.

“This leaves open the possibility to recognise and reshape the different ways citizens engage in transport planning, while challenging our own thinking on what participatory planning is for, and for who or what it is ultimately serving.”