Ever wondered what drives people's seemingly innate opposition to new infrastructure where they live?
Much of our opposition to new infrastructure is rooted in human psychology.
It's partly because we are programmed to fear things that are new and different - it's an evolutionary mechanism we all share and that over thousands of years has helped to keep us safe from predators and aided our survival as a species.
But in a more contemporary context, it has a lot to do with the value we place on our health, wealth and happiness. Any suggestion that they may be compromised will usually elicit resistance from communities expected to play host to planned new infrastructure. It’s why organised groups opposed to the siting of new Energy from Waste (EfW) incinerators, for example, will talk-up the risks of “toxic air pollution” and potential public health impacts.
If people think your development might negatively impact their health or the health of their loved ones, you're going to find that they oppose your plans. Because the house they live in is probably the biggest investment they've ever made, they'll oppose your plans if they think they will reduce the value of their home or make it harder to sell. And because they spend most of their time at home when not at work or school, they'll fight your proposal if they think your development will interfere with their enjoyment of their property.
For instance, if a new housing development threatens to increase the local population without any provision for growth in local public services like schools and GP surgeries, existing residents will have cause to worry about their health ("will I be able to see my doctor quickly enough when I need to in future?") their wealth ("will people want to live here if it becomes overcrowded and might house values drop as a result if that's the case?") and happiness ("will all these people and their cars make the area less peaceful and enjoyable than it is now?").
You can see how these same concerns could arise as a consequence of virtually any planned new infrastructure, as it's the very basis of the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) sentiment that's so often exhibited by people when they hear of plans for any new development near where they live.
So, how do you overcome this?
The simple truth is that you can't always overcome it totally, but you can do a lot to make sure residents that could be affected by your plans understand them in context and without allowing speculation (sometimes idle, other times deliberate) to get in the way.
To help, you should communicate early, be transparent about potentially negative impacts and explain how you'll work to minimise them, and show that you care about the things that are likely to concern people. But remember also that you need to avoid using too much technical jargon because these are emotive issues, driven by instinct and gut-feel, and that you can't always overcome them with reason.
Try viewing every different part of your plans through the lens of health, wealth and happiness and then think about how you can frame your stakeholder engagement efforts to show that you've considered and are trying to address them.