Managing the risks of infrastructure project objectors

Yesterday (16 May 2018), I took part in an expert panel discussion on managing business risks hosted by Lancashire Business View, where my focus was on the risks posed to infrastructure developments by those that object to them. Here's a flavour of what I said (embellished here because space allows).

 

With the exception, perhaps, of government road and rail schemes, all other forms of major infrastructure development are a largely speculative affair and fraught with the risk of failure - especially in the planning system.

Whether it's a windfarm or a housing estate you're trying to build, it's never easy piloting your scheme through the process of seeking to obtain planning permission, and there are absolutely no guarantees of success.

What is virtually guaranteed, however, is that poor stakeholder engagement is almost certain to increase the risks of failure.

In general, good developers want two things: local acceptance of their proposals and a favourable local planning outcome. What they don't want is to run into lots of local disapproval, fail to secure planning permission at the local level as a result, and then have to pursue a lengthy, time-consuming and costly appeal - which, in England, has only a 30% chance of success - because they know it's much better for everyone when decisions are taken locally.

A failure to engage with relevant stakeholders at the right time and in the right manner can lead to more people feeling motivated to oppose and object to your scheme. Decision-makers are attuned to the voices of opposition, and there's a good chance they'll be influenced by them.

So, how can you minimise these risks and maximise your chances of success?

In a nutshell, there are four key things you can do:

Firstly, engage early, openly, transparently, open-mindedly and be willing to take on board the feedback you receive from local stakeholders.

Secondly, be sure to explain any social, environmental and economic advantages that your project will bring, who benefits and how. Essentially, answer the eternal "what's in it for me?" question.

Thirdly, be upfront about any risks your project might be responsible for. Make it clear that you genuinely care about these risks and will do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them and put in place adequate mitigation just in case something does go wrong.

Fourthly, and lastly, highlight any real risks of not proceeding with your proposed development. Often, there will be a social, environmental or economic cost to not proceeding.

Done like this, you'll stand a far greater chance of gaining community acceptance for your scheme and securing planning permission locally.

It makes much more sense to invest in great stakeholder engagement at the start in order to avoid the potential for much more significant costs associated with a failure to secure planning consent locally and a subsequent appeal.

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