Birmingham public quizzed on air quality

Officials in the West Midlands are trying to engage the typical 'man in the street' to seek his views on air pollution and what might be done to reduce the problem.

In a novel slant on public consultation, Defra has recruited 20 members of the public from Birmingham, its suburbs and surrounding countryside and, after giving them a crash course on the relevant issues, will be asking for their opinion on air pollution.

Defra is hoping its ‘citizen’s jury’ will give it an insight into public opinion and allow it to gauge priorities from the point of view of the ordinary people.

While the department did send the jurors on a weekend course where they listened to lectures from leading scientists and industry representatives, as well as having the chance to cross examine them, Defra will not be asking the jurists for technical advice.

“It’s Joe Public reporting back to the experts,” Ray Prichard, a spokesman for Defra told edie.

“It’s part of a number of different consultation exercises we undertake and gives people a chance to have their say and be instrumental in the policy-making process.”

He said that while experts in the field of air pollution might know the science, there was a chance they did not have the ‘on the ground’ personal experience of a member of the public who might be affected by a particular issue.

As well as informing policy on air quality, the project aims to explore the opportunities for more deliberative forms of public engagement in policy-making within Defra.

“It isn’t about paying lip service to consultation,” Mr Prichard told edie.

“It’s about seeking people’s views and listening to their sensible opinions which may represent those of the man in the street with first hand experience.”

A report based on their conclusions will be published on the Defra website in April while a delegation from the jury has been invited to a meeting with the department’s air quality policy-makers to discuss the recommendations in their report.

By Sam Bond

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