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27. Hafenforum

27.1. Short description

The Hafenforum was a broad moderated citizen participation process carried out in 2010 and 2011, concerning a plan to reshape Münster’s harbour area and the surrounding densely populated Hansaviertel. The Hafenforum and its repercussions represent a new episode in the swelling conflict in terms of urban development projects within the city of Münster. It could be an innovative form of public dispute management to establish early stakeholder involvement (of residents, local merchants, etc.) to prevent possible resistance.

The process is situated in the context of a strong pro-growth coalition focusing on large-scale prestige projects on the one hand and dwindling public resources on the other. Therefore, the need to attract private investors is constantly increasing. At the same time, citizens’ awareness levels concerning the effects of property led urban planning – which are clearly visible in the city – seem to be on the rise, as indicated by an increase in public conflicts around such topics. This awareness surfaced in the opposition of local merchants and residents towards the plans of two private (main) investors, backed by the local administration, to transform old industrial compounds in the harbour area into high-end housing facilities. Another point of contention was the induction of a shopping centre as well as big car parks into the surrounding areas.

Left-wing parties picked up on the local peoples’ apprehensions and reached a decision in the city council50, calling for the Hafenforum to precede any further formal decision-making processes about the area. This call for a public consultation process on the neighbourhood’s future resulted from the fact that neither the city council nor the administration had full disposal rights to the areas affected by the investors’ plans.

The Hafenforum attracted hundreds of participants in a number of open sessions and workgroups. The administration engaged the local public relations agency bürofrauns to organise, moderate and document the process. It was furthermore agreed that the Committee on Urban Development, Urban Planning, Traffic and Economy (ASSVW, Ausschuss für Stadtentwicklung, Stadtplanung, Verkehr und Wirtschaft) should decide upon the projects after the end of the process. Through this, the existing Masterplan Stadthäfen, which outlines the long-term development concept for the wider harbour area (approved by the city council in 2004) should be modified.

27.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users

In many cases hearings and counselling processes are obligatory in urban planning processes. However, the Hafenforum is a new way of addressing a public conflict in the city of Münster, since it extends the mandatory citizen involvement substantially and tries to create an opportunity for a meeting between developers, neighbours and other stakeholders prior to formal decision-making.

Once the resolution was taken to hold the Hafenforum, the main political stakeholders in the ongoing development process – namely the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Party – wanted to include critical stakeholders as quickly as possible. This seemed to be a measure to avoid a potential referendum on the plans51. The Green Party, on the other hand, has a stronghold in the concerned area and saw itself as a resident advocate. In addition, they wanted to posit their opposition to the current logic of urban development carried out by local legislators and administrators.

Three open forums were held with 200 to 400 participants each. Information about investors’ plans was provided, questions could be asked and ideas communicated. In addition, working groups on specific topics (set by the administration) were held, in which a small number of 30 participants each could participate. Nominally, the participants of the Hafenforum should discuss perspectives for the harbour area, concluding in an update to the city’s Masterplan Stadthäfen. But given the actual situation – with an investor plan on the agenda – it was obvious that the Hafenforum would mainly focus on opposition towards and alternatives to this plan.

This ambiguity resulted in diverging expectations, which makes the evaluation of the success of the Hafenforum difficult. While some citizens expected to be able to contribute to factual decisions and be integrated in actual planning processes, other residents and investors expected a mere information event. Meanwhile, political stakeholders never wanted or could not relay any legislative power, but saw a great chance to “get in contact” with the citizens in the forum.

27.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

Even though it is not uncommon to call upon the services of private enterprises in participatory processes, the engagement of bürofrauns, an agency for “communication, planning and marketing” in this highly controversial political discussion process is crucial. Its role as well as the entire process was discussed publicly in a highly controversial manner. While some praised the participatory quality and openness of the forum, others criticised the same procedure as too dominated by certain stakeholders. In addition to this, administration representatives rejected some individual suggestions as impossible for technical or financial reasons.

In the eyes of some critical participants, the process thus had strong top-down and paternalistic traits. Representatives of different associations criticised: “We were told what is possible and what isn’t, but not why”52, and “I’ve got the impression that the plans presented in the beginning were only slightly modified and shall now be pushed through”53. These statements, uniting a spectrum of quite different stakeholders, illustrate a widely shared impression of a pseudo-participatory character of the forum.

As a reaction to these controversies, all parties agreed to hold talks as a follow-up to the process, involving the forum’s directing committee, the administration, investors and critics of the Hafenforum. However, judgments on the quality and success of the process continue to diverge. Despite this the ASSVW passed the plans of the investors with some gradual changes – the shopping centre was downsized and the housing project approved with the obligation to include 30 per cent of social housing. The Masterplan Stadthäfen was changed in several minor aspects. The proposal was passed by a broad majority of Christian Democrats, Liberal Democrats and Social Democrats. In contrast, some representatives of the Green Party and the five participating associations expressed massive critique regarding both the way in which the Hafenforum sessions were conducted anddocumented by bürofrauns, as well as the ultimate decision of the committee, as it would not in any manner reflect the actual discussions54. Furthermore, even though the Social Democratic representative in the committee commented positively on the Hafenforum, his counterpart of the Green Party is quoted as saying that the administration “willingly falsified the results”55.

27.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

The Hafenforum is an outcome of growing demands for participation at the local level and growing frustration about the one-dimensional doctrines of local decision-making. However, as several politicians stated, the given means of participation – mainly allowing for resistance against proposed ventures – make it difficult to realise projects. Therefore it appears necessary to involve stakeholders, including radical opponents, at an early stage of planning, as the “political price” (and probably also the monetary) of failure through a referendum is high. Therefore, the municipality attempts to involve citizens early if resistance against a project is anticipated. The Hafenforum was a special case, however, due to the number of citizens involved as well as the prolonged duration of the participation process.

Conflicts are likely to arise, especially in cases of urban planning and the field of basic public supplies. However, they may also occur in social policy in a narrower sense. Nonetheless, the heavy and ongoing controversies regarding the Hafenforum point to the fact that if a topic is as controversial as this, even involving stakeholders in a moderated process may not solve or calm the conflict. This holds especially true if, as in this case, matters seem predetermined or are presented without a viable alternative. This lack of openness regarding the results might have been the biggest flaw in this case because expectations of politicians, investors and citizens diverged significantly. The lack of neutrality of the administration and the assigned agency bürofrauns was another point of contention. This suggests that while opposition seems to be rather easily organised, the development of realistic alternative plans for urban development is a lot harder to achieve by participatory processes.

It can be concluded that the aims of such a participation process should be made as clear as possible in order to avoid discontent and frustration. This holds especially true for processes where the level of emotional involvement is high. A clearer legal framework might be helpful despite its potentially limiting effect as regards the flexibility of the methods.

The Hafenforum affected the political local landscape in so far as it split opponents of the project into more radical groups and those willing to compromise towards a modified concept. In fact, the formal decision in December 2011 reflected one of the main aims of the local social democratic housing policy: increasing social housing, especially in areas close to the city. It was obviously a negotiated compromise between the administration, investors and Christian Democratic, Liberal Democratic and Social Democratic Parties, opposed by the Green Party.

It is unknown what consequences the experience of the Hafenforum will have on local politics in the future. Obviously, it could not solve the strategic dilemma between large-scale urban planning with regard to the whole city on the one side and resistance against them by citizens from the affected neighbourhoods on the other.

General trends

Some general trends linking the innovations studied herein can be observed. The innovations point to a different understanding of the role of public administration. It is increasingly seen as a service provider with a strong focus on its clients. Therefore, one of its increasingly important functions is the empowerment of citizens. Contemporaneous with this change the role of NPOs in the local interplay of stakeholders is undergoing a transformation as well, i.e. they are gradually focusing on networking with different kinds of stakeholders from all sectors of society.


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27. Hafenforum


27. Hafenforum