Abstract: People in local communities are becoming increasingly influential as government decentralises its decision making in key areas such as environment and development. Over the last ten years, increased public participation in environmental approval processes has become a feature of many jurisdictions internationally. There is still, however, a lack of clarity concerning the roles and power of participants in these decision making processes, against a backdrop of changing relationships between governments, companies and civil society. One key shift is the expectation that companies will form direct relationships with communities, where previously this relationship was mediated by government (Bridge, 1998, 225). These changes give rise to new forms of relationships and new understandings of the democratic process.