Presented by Dr Nick Hacking, Dr Jamie Lewis and Professor Robert Evans (Cardiff University)

Planning disputes are sites of contestation in which science-based regulations come into conflict with the place-based knowledge of local communities. The procedural and often technical nature of these regulations means that these controversies are marked by an asymmetry of resources that is often experienced by community groups as an asymmetry in credibility. In short, the expertise of developers is generally accepted as such, whilst the knowledge claimed by citizens is dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ or ‘NIMBYism’. In this paper, we make the argument that the asymmetries of expertise are less stark than the current system typically allows and that recognising and accommodating this would improve the planning system by enhancing the representation and inclusion of community voices. We explore this position by using a case study of the construction of a biomass-from-energy plant in South Wales.

Drawing from 31 qualitative interviews, we maintain that the planning process has the potential to function as a type of ‘trading zone’ in which different communities enact their rights and have their claims to knowledge and expertise recognised. Crucial to this argument is understanding that the levels and kinds of expertise that different parties bring to the interactions are more than just matters of attribution: community groups can have genuine expertise. Indeed, as we demonstrate, they have both ‘contributory expertise’ in their own locality and, in many cases, something approaching ‘interactional expertise’ in the technical domains at the heart of the planning dispute.

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