The purpose of this doctoral research is to critically evaluate the public participation principle in environmental decision-making. Public participation is widely regarded as forming part of the corpus of international environmental law and has been recognised globally by the full breadth of legal doctrine from constitutional provisions, European Directives to human rights treaties. Proponents of the participation concept consider it to be a praised tool of environmental democracy which draws upon the principle’s underlying theoretical origins which are rooted in participative democratic theory. Participation is largely seen as an inherently good thing- but this status has not been subject to sufficient academic interrogation, this research will explore whether it is an appropriate tool for meeting the objectives claimed. Proponents of participation, of which there are many, can appeal to three distinct justifications for participation: first, that it is good for government because it can be applied to ensure administrative expedience; further that it is a process that confers democratic legitimacy, encouraging active citizenry; and finally that it can lead to better environmental decisions.
In order to make a rigorous and original contribution to the literature in this field, the discussion is framed around an innovative conceptual analytical framework drawing on the justifications for participatory decision-making indicated by the 1969 Skeffington Report: People and Planning. This research interrogates the validity of the justifications by examining the experience of participation for all the major interests; the State, society and the environment. It does so with reference to the extended case study of the 2003 GM Nation public debate.