France to boost public participation rights

Bill to ratify Århus convention due before end of the year; new rules planned for public inquiries

France will ratify the UN Århus convention on public participation in environmental decision making through a draft law to be presented to parliament before the end of the year, environment minister Dominique Voynet announced yesterday. Ms Voynet said that the bill would be a first step in her strategy of increase participation in public inquiries into proposed infrastructure developments and would be followed by a second law reforming the rules for public inquiries early next year.

Next spring's bill reforming procedures for public inquiries will require local authorities to outline and announce the purpose of proposed infrastructure projects or environmental policies. Authorities will also have to publish public comments.

Ms Voynet said that a 1992 reform of public inquiry rules governing transport infrastructure plans and the 1995 creation of the national commission for public debate (CNDP) had both been victims of their own success. Increased public demand for participation meant that new reforms were now needed, she said.

The planned reforms would lead to a wider remit for the CNDP, said Ms Voynet. Since its creation the CNDP has organised four public debates, focusing on proposed expansion of port facilities, widening of a motorway and construction of new railway lines.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; press release.

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