As part of the Trust’s Creative Space for Civic Thinking work, the Civic Activism Programme funded a number of innovative projects to use different models of, amongst other things, public consultation to try and redefine what we mean by democracy here in Northern Ireland.
One of the projects, ran by the Rural Community Network and Community Places, sought to open up dialogue around the contentious issue of renewable energy in rural communities, and in particular the idea of ‘’NIMBYism’’.
In April 2014 RCN held a conference for rural community groups to explore issues related to wind energy, and have supported groups and activists in objecting to wind energy development. They have also supported communities in considering the potential of renewable energy as a social enterprise.
The number of wind farms has grown significantly in the past decade, and this has become a highly contested issue in rural communities. The NI Executive has committed to obtaining 40 percent of NI electricity from renewable sources by 2020, much of that from wind.
In order to meet this target, further wind energy infrastructure development is inevitable in rural areas. Some wind energy developers have previously characterized community objections to turbines as a form of NIMBY-ism.
The RCN believes that this is a pejorative term that polarizes the debate and ignores the fact that communities have long-held and legitimate attachments to their landscape. The network believes that local opposition to wind energy infrastructure needs to be understood not as obstructionist, but rather as a form of protection of place.
To look at the issue, RCN and Community Places experimented with Public Conversation Project Dialogue, a technique used to explore deeply divisive topics that are not easily resolved through compromise. Such issues are often rooted in deeply personal aspects of identity, values and worldviews, and often undermine the creation of a cooperative and constructive style of interaction within a community.
The process has just finished and they have come up with a series of recommendations including early and meaningful engagement, participatory planning approaches and decision making and adopting a plan led, rather than a developer led approach to renewable energy in rural areas.
As well as this, the process identified the need to ensure community benefit was clearly defined and centred at all times, the need to develop guidelines for community engagement and the desire to rethink the problematic term NIMBYism.