The 5th Annual National Significant Infrastructure Projects Forum 2017 was attended by May Lester, Emily Marshall, Sam Rowe and Tom Mothersole. Here, May shares some key insights from the day.
This year’s event began with a resonating introduction from Gideon Amos OBE, National Planning Advisor for GL Hearn, who gave a succinct overview of the birth of the Planning Act 2008 (no mean feat!). His calm reflection that back in the early 2000s, infrastructure was being attacked from all sides by climate change, economic downturns and mass uncertainty, drew some unspoken comparisons to the ambiguity faced by many of us across the world today.
There was a huge amount of information shared on the day, and here I’ve tried to summarise the three key messages that we took away…
There are busy times ahead
Simone Wilding, Head of Major Casework for the Planning Inspectorate, explained that in the next few years, there are the highest number of applications predicted for submission to PINS. In summary, energy project applications are staying steady (19 applications predicted over the next two years), whereas transport project applications are increasing (44 predicted over the same timeframe). Simone’s statistics were echoed by Angus Walker, Partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, who said that energy projects were currently influenced more by finances than the planning process itself. He advised that the Government would do well to look at improving this, as it will be an ever-increasing need. The Brexit-shaped elephant in the room was addressed by our very own Emily Marshall towards the end of the day, the topic of which was received with relief and the expected shrugs of shoulders.
The increase in applications, and the subsequent workload of PINS, now means that it’s more important than ever to create a watertight DCO from the get-go.
Preparation is key
Almost every speaker shared personal experiences of what had gone well and what had gone very wrong during their careers in planning, consultations and DCO submissions. The clear message was that preparation is everything to a successful pre-application process. A few ‘lessons learned’ points included:
- Ensure consistency across documentation
- Engage with local authorities as soon as possible
- Refer to PINS advice notes; these are your ‘instruction manual’
- The more information you exchange with stakeholders at consultation stage, the more detailed answers and feedback you will get in response – risk can therefore be managed more robustly
- Liaise with landowners early on in the process, and understand there will be specific topics they want to discuss
- Get organised! Have the right team for the job
- Consider elements such as landscape, tourism and heritage in the early stages, as this will secure mitigation and legacy – improving the chances of success overall
For me, most prominent was to ensure that you’ve identified what you’re trying to achieve; what is your project? Build your consultation process around this, not the other way around.
They don’t believe you
Rhion Jones, Institute Director and Associate at The Consultation Institute completed the day by making what could have been deemed a hugely negative statement, the fact that, unfortunately, people no longer believe large companies during consultations. He expanded on this by defining ‘post-truth’ (Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016) – Relating to or demoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Rather than dwelling on this as a problem, Rhion summarised with this uplifting, and seemingly simple solution: public dialogue must be genuine.
This is certainly something I have experienced on projects I’ve worked on at Counter Context, in that having transparent, real conversations with stakeholders is the best platform on which both parties can understand one another, and move forward with a mutual understanding and respect.
We look forward to applying the knowledge and insights taken away from the NSIPs Forum 2017 in order to benefit our clients and the ultimate success of their projects. If you’d like any further information about this event, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.