Headlines: January 31st, 2006

A report has been drawn up to give a Government department the views of ordinary members of the public on the question of air quality. Defra recruited 20 people to a ‘Citizen’s Jury’, a particular type of public consultation, from across the West Midlands region.The jurors were recruited to provide a representative cross-section from rural, urban and city environments and were drawn from Rugeley, Tamworth, Lichfield, Kingshurst, Sutton Coldfield, Erdington, Great Barr, Perry Barr, New Oscott, Edgbaston, Sparkbrook and Birmingham City Centre. They were asked to provide Defra with recommendations on the measures they think should be introduced to improve air quality. Their recommendations have now been presented informally to the Department.

After an introductory session the jurors spent a weekend hearing evidence from a range of air quality experts who were selected to be able to answer questions identified by the jury themselves. Members had an opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses. At a final meeting the jury discussed what they had heard and formulated their recommendations. A team of independent facilitators who were managing the Citizens’ Jury drafted a report based on these conclusions and recommendations. The report was sent to the members for their agreement before going to Defra, which is expected to give its formal response in May.

The nine witnesses included academics, representative from Defra, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and Friends of the Earth as well as Gavin Tringham, Head of Public Health at Birmingham City Council who gave evidence on local policies.

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