Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Public Discussion


Country: Bulgaria

Context

Varna municipality has established a public discussions with local stakeholders and the local population on issues of local importance i.e.:
Urban development of the city and the surrounding neighborhoods;
Plans and programs for improvement of the local infrastructure, social and economic environment, tourism etc.
During the last two years public discussions have been carried out as follows:
Public debate on project design for reconstruction and improvement of the environment of major pedestrian zones in the central part of Varna, submitted within the Operation Programme for Regional Development.
Discussion of the environmental impact assessment of the Bulgarian part of the South Stream marine gas pipeline crossing Varna and the region.
Public debate on the elaboration of the Municipal Plan for development of Varna municipality 2014-2020.
Public debate on proposed specific names of beaches for which designed maps and registers were made in the territory of Varna.
Public discussion of the “Integrated plan for urban generation and development of Varna”
The basic principle within discussions is to enhance the partnership with a wide range of local stakeholders – organizations and institutions concerned, economic and social partners, local people and representatives having a specific positive attitude to municipal development.

Measure

The general aim of the public discussions is to improve the living environment of the city through enhancing active citizen participation in decision-making process, development of local policies, programs and action plans and to enhance local citizen representation in local policy development.
The specific objectives are:
To encourage broader citizen participation at the local level by involving local population, stakeholders, residents, business units etc.
To contribute to the improvement of the local legal basis for planning and operation through interaction by changes, proposals and suggestions concerning the state of art of the local environment.
To raise the awareness of the local residents on issues of local importance and to discuss topics of local self-government, environment protection, tourism and sustainable development, social inclusion etc.

Target Group

The public discussions on topics of local importance were addressed to:
Residents of the area and neighborhood where the problem exist
Economic actors and business entities that could be interested in the issues addressed and their potential resolution
Organizations, institutions having a local attitude to municipal development
Local population and local community

Methodology

The participatory process is a continuous and interactive tool for involving as many local residents as possible in order for a sustainable development and fruitful results to be achieved. The process itself includes a set of tools applied as follows:

Informative
The municipality send an invitation to the interested parties through its established information channels i.e. online publications, press releases, TV broadcasts
During the discussion day the respective representatives (of the institutions concerned), experts and specialists introduce the project through presentations, film shootings, distribution of booklets, reports of feasibility studies
An opinion poll is made among the participants to understand their personal attitude towards the problem
When all the proposals have been collected and discussions reviewed, the municipality makes the decision taken known, together with the respective changes in the documents based on the views and observations made
Discursive
The participants are given the responsibility to present their views, to discuss the investment ideas, to propose solutions, to suggest alternatives etc. Citizen ask questions about the potential impact of the investments in the concerned areas and experts provide replies that are as comprehensive as possible.
If needed a debate for outlining the incentives and constraints of the problem is organized.

Feedback
During the discussions written statements are made by the interested parties along with proposals and suggestions and the project promoter is obliged to submit observations within 10 days from the public hearing.

Stakeholders

The initiative of the public discussions gives the municipality the fundamental role of informing and popularizing the activities that are implemented in the territory. It is an interactive process where the local authority and citizens communicate and exchange information in order for sustainable benefits to be achieved by all parties. At the same time the participants can make proposals that actively contribute to a better preparation and implementation of projects. Local business companies can benefit from their direct involvement in the specific activities by making use of the results of the respective outcomes. The local population is kept aware and informed and can contribute actively by taking part in the discussions and debates.

Assessment

The basic principle of public discussions is to enhance the partnership with a wide range of local stakeholders, organizations and institutions, local people and representatives having a positive attitude towards municipal development. All the statements and proposals made during the discussions are taken into consideration, so that the legal basis is improved and the plans are realized in a way that is most useful to the public. The practical results are related with development and submission of applications, deposit of written statements, development of proposals and projects, implementation of practical measures and actions.

Impact

Varna is the third largest city and the largest tourist destination in the country, the so called “Sea capital” of Bulgaria. It is therefore a fundamental objective of the local authority to achieve an economic revival and sustainability of the area based on active citizenship and civil participation.
It is the interest of the municipality to organize and implement such discussions with the participation of local communities and feedback is received especially when they come from the parties concerned. To this end, all the statements and proposals received during the discussions have been taken into consideration, so that the legal basis is improved and the plans are realized in a way that is most useful to the public.
The practical results and impact of the measures on the target groups are the following:
The project for the improvement of major pedestrian zones in the central urban area has been submitted for financing under the Operation Programme for Regional Development and is currently being carried out in the city. Through the implementation of such measures the living environment will be improved, which will lead to better lifestyle and urban conditions. The open discussions with an active citizen participation contributed to outline the aspects that are most important for the local community.
The participative debate for the environmental impact assessment of the Bulgarian part of the South Stream marine gas pipeline resulted in the making of five written statements by the local stakeholders concerning the content of the assessment and will reflect on the results of the final statement. Local citizens were given the possibility to discuss and present views and observations to argue for the improvement of the technical part of the investment project.
The public debates on the elaboration of the Municipal Plans for development of Varna are still in progress as they concern the municipal strategic development in the following program period and aim to improve the living conditions of the local population.

Swot

1. Strengths (characteristics of the measure that give it an advantage over others):
Leading role of the municipality that initiates public debates and discussions
Participation of a wide range of stakeholders, residents and citizens
Participants are given the responsibility to present their views, to discuss their investment ideas, to propose solutions, to suggest alternatives etc.
2. Weaknesses (characteristics that place the measure at a disadvantage relative to others)
Many ideas can be expressed regarding an investment proposal or a measure, which can bring to neglect the main purpose or initiative
People with various interests can take part in a discussion with the possibility not to propose the best solution
3. Opportunities (elements that the measure could exploit to its advantage):
The measure can be implemented separately in the five districts in the municipality so that more local residents can be invited to participate
4. Threats (elements in the environment that could cause trouble to the measure):
Lack of funding to implement the measures

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