Public hearings in construction: when will they become compulsory in Russia?

Passing by a construction site, people often ask themselves: and who has allowed it here? If a new draft bill is adopted, the question will naturally fall off.

Conflicts, and sometimes very acute, between constructors and inhabitants of nearby districts often arise in Russia. People are displeased with the construction starting near their house.  There were precedents when the protests ceased the construction. Both sides suffer in the result of the conflict. How can the interests of both parties be taken into consideration? A draft bill on public hearings allowing, from its authors’ point of view, to avoid such collisions, has been prepared in the RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities.  

We live here

A lot of cases have been found out in the process of the issue study, when a in big cities a high-rise building rises on the territory of a school, or a trade center on the place of a kindergarten.

Some time ago it was decided to build a hotel in the place of a parkland in Ulianovsk. All documents were executed according to law, and according to the existing papers, the public opinion was not negative.  But when constructors came to the site, people came out to a protest meeting.  

Such things occur because there are a lot of gaps in the Urban Development Code. And they become possible in the places where there are rich developers and the local authorities encourage them, Deputy of the State Duma of the 6th call, Olga Timofeeva, thinks.  To exclude the incidents the process of public hearings must be put in order.  

Two years ago, President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, signed the corresponding charge, and now the Ministry of Construction has prepared a draft bill to be introduced in State Duma. The document is aimed at making a backstop against public opinion manipulation. Residents’ opinions should be registered and really taken in consideration while taking urban development solutions.

Different in different regions

The situation with taking into account the opinion of the population is quite different in different regions and cities of Russia.

The existing mechanisms of informing people of the coming urban development initiatives do not allow to make a real picture of the public opinion, Igor Sapko, Head of the Perm municipal administration, thinks. So, conflicts between residents and developers arise.

A local legislative base for holding public hearings has been created in Perm. The existing land-use recommendations have been amended. One of the requirements is that during such events visual propaganda and the display of the  object to be constructed should be presented.

Besides, the registration form for the public hearings participants has been developed, which contain their proposals and expert opinion of the authorized committee.  Also informing the owners of nearby land plots and of apartments in multistoried blocks of flats is provided.

These measures allow to avoid the conflict situation at the initial stage, Perm Mayor is sure.  However all the measures are the initiative of local authorities and is not a compulsory element of the preparation for construction as they are not  prescribed by the Urban Development Code. But if corresponding amendments are introduced in law, the practice will be compulsory for all municipalities of the country.  

According to Igor Sapko, the present draft bill needs improvement. Especially it is necessary to take autonomous public bodies’ opinion into account, giving them powers to prepare and hold public hearings, as they know the real situation much better than officials.    

In Nizhny Novgorod public hearings on an important urban development project in a district with the population of 100,000 people, were attended only be…45 people. Vladimir Panov, Deputy of the City Duma, decided to clear out why people did not attend the meeting. It turned out that many of them wanted to express their opinion but they are not satisfied with either the ways and forms, or with the time of the event.  So, the Deputy thinks, the form and the ways of expressing public opinion should be altered. It is an acute problem and it is raised at every meeting with electorate.

Draft bill needs to be improved

According to Vladimir Panov, the draft bill solves all the problems. The terms of public hearings are enlarged. According to the new regulation, public hearings are to be held during a month (today they are organized on a day: who manages to come has the opportunity to say something).  

The form of the event is also changed: now they are called public hearings (that is a single event), and if the law is adopted they will become public discussions (it goes on a process, not a single event).

Another important thing to be included in the text of the draft bill – is providing the maximal availability of public materials. People should understand what it is all about.

Registration order for the participants of public discussions should be also established. As it is not now, the interested party may easily manipulate the public opinion. For example, invite engaged people to the event.  But if all participants are included in the lists, it would be more difficult to influence the final decision of the meeting, the Deputy is sure.

The procedure of decision taking should be paid careful attention. Now it is voted. It seems to be the most widespread democratic way of clearing out the public opinion. But the thing is what number of citizens is needed for taking a decision. It hardly may be adopted if 45 people of 100,000 have voted, Vladimir Panov remarks. That’s why this issue requires further elaboration.

Bureaucratic sabotage

The fact that the presidential charge given two years ago has been fulfilled for so long is connected with the officials’ reluctance to share their powers. Sometimes they just formally organize a sort of hearings and then do what they intended to do.

There are both negative and positive examples of public hearings practice in the country, and a law is required having no gaps for the officials to execute it up to the point.

The new draft bill is aimed at reforming the institute of public hearings and enhancing their impact on the final resolution.

If the regulation on the citizens’ right to ban construction is introduced, then a referendum is necessary to be held, which is regulated by another law.

There are examples when people sopped trees cutting, constructions making a human shield. It is hardly optimal. The draft bill gives active citizens a tool to influence the situation. Olga Timofeeva does not exclude the situation when a draft bill will be altered significantly after a public discussion. Anyway, its task is to provide for maximal taking people’s opinion into account.

Adoption of the law is a step to a civilized dialogue.