Public participation in urban planning

June 26, 2022

People have the right to be involved in planning the future of their cities

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he Master Plan for Lahore 2050 is undergoing the drafting process. Public and stakeholder consultation is an integral part of the planning process. This is the first time the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) has made an effort to welcome public participation in the master planning of Lahore.

The vision for the 2050 Master Plan is based on five pillars; a vibrant environment, sustainability, preserved heritage, balanced economy and inclusiveness.

In my naïve opinion, the LDA deserves appreciation for following the directions given in Lahore Master Plan Rules 2014 on how public consultation/ opinion has to be integrated into the planning process.

According to the rules, the first step is to conduct physical surveys to collect data from the public to assess demographic, housing, environmental, economic and transportation needs. This is one-way flow of information. The data is obtained from only a small sample. It is difficult to be generalised for people residing in complex and diverse localities.

The next step, public consultation, addresses this issue. It clearly demands that the Authority publish a public notice in at least two Urdu and two English newspapers, sharing the main features of the draft master plan with the general public and inviting them to give their input.

The public objections and suggestions are taken in public hearings arranged by the LDA over the period of five years. Citizens, academicians, real estate developers and other stakeholders can attend the public hearings and give their feedback. The LDA is also responsible for keeping a record of these proceedings.

Syed Nadeem Akhtar Zaidi, the chief metropolitan planner at the LDA, says, “the LDA administration decided to arrange 18 such meetings in Kasur, Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura and Lahore. Out of these, eight have been organised so far. The master planning team is satisfied with the input of the stakeholders who attended the meeting.”

Data collection for the plan under discussion began in 2019. Covid-19-related restrictions then created an opportunity for the organisation to focus on the development of information and communication technology (ICT) tools to gather the public opinion. The door-to door surveys still continued, but the need for contactless, quick and efficient modes of data collection became apparent. The LDA and the consultant agency, ASIAN, introduced a platform in the form of a Facebook group with the name of Master Plan for Lahore Division 2050.

The way data is currently being analysed can create confusion. For example, an interesting observation was that most of the comments were from people belonging to marginalised and unplanned areas of Lahore. This gives the impression that the rest of the areas of Lahore are already well-planned and well-managed. Such an assumption can result in poor planning decisions.

Other ICT platforms and tools include Twitter, email, chat option on LDA’s official websites and an application called Commonplace. The Facebook group, however, is the most active and effective in the context of public response.

The Facebook platform started in the year 2021. It is run by a representative each from the LDA and consultant organisation. The notices for public hearings/ stakeholder consultation workshops, the live footage of those sessions and main features of the draft plan are shared regularly. The public input/ data comes in the form of comments under all those posts.

The data is collected, analysed and categorised by the representatives of both the organisations. The real problem that arises is the lack of a mechanism for integrating the feedback so obtained in the final draft.

An assistant director from the master planning department shared some insights. “The comments from the public from each of the online outlets are collected, and the theme of each comment is analysed and put into categories, depending on the decided keywords,” they said.

The way data is currently being analysed can cause confusion. For example, an interesting observation from the data was that most of the comments were from people belonging to marginalised and unplanned areas of Lahore. This might give the impression that the rest of the areas of Lahore are already well-planned and well-managed. This is a mere assumption that can result in poor planning decisions.

The current efforts by the LDA for inculcating public participation in the master planning process are commendable. The authority has also tried to join the global move towards effective use of ICT tools for bridging the gap between public input and urban policy making.

However, there are some serious concerns which need attention.

The current efforts focus on data collection only. Data analysis requires a different set of measures to see the patterns in the public feedback and the nature of issues highlighted by the people and their geographical area/ locality. Lastly, people should be made aware of how their input is utilised and assured that their concerns will be addressed in the final plan. This is crucial for the success of all current initiatives. Otherwise, people’s trust in planning institutions will be further reduced.


The writer works for Department of Governance and Global Studies at the Information Technology University



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