This article explores the nature of public participation in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process in the context of the potential integration of the Aarhus Convention principles into the UK EIA system. Although the Convention advocates ‘early’ and ‘effective’ participation, these terms remain undefined and questions persist about exactly how to implement the Aarhus principles. Ten practice evaluation criteria derived from the Aarhus Convention are used to analyse the public participation procedures used in four UK waste disposal EIA case studies. The paper reports the extent to which the practice evaluation criteria were fulfilled, explores the types and effectiveness of the participation methods used in the EIAs, and highlights some of the key barriers that appear to impede the execution of ‘early’ and ‘effective’ participation programmes. It concludes that the Aarhus Convention will undoubtedly lead to a strengthening of participation procedures but that the level of improvement secured will depend upon how its ideals are interpreted and incorporated into legislation and practice.
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