There are three reasons why you might choose to engage with stakeholders ahead of your next big project. But there's only one that matters for controversial yet critical infrastructure.
When it comes to major developments, there are in essence three reasons why business choose to engage with stakeholders:
1. To meet the statutory requirement for public consultation under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) or the Planning Act 2008 (as amended) for developments that are deemed Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs); or
2. To meet the statutory requirement for public consultation whilst also trying to overcome any local resistance and contain any potential opposition; or
3. To meet the statutory requirement for public consultation but also to involve local people in decision-making and build trust by being openly communicative and genuinely prepared to let stakeholders shape your plans.
You can probably already guess where this is going, but we'll say it anyway:
In the case of developments that are likely to be contentious or controversial, just doing the bare minimum required by law will look like you're only interested in ticking boxes. If you're just trying to quell opposition, you'll appear like all you want to do is force your proposals onto an unwilling community. However, if you engage deeply and meaningfully, you may still find that people aren't keen on hosting your development but at least any remaining opposition will then be rightly focused on material planning considerations and not the fact you didn't communicate effectively.
Remember, much of what drives people's reaction to development proposals near them is a natural resistance to change and a desire to protect the things that matter most to them - their health, wealth and happiness.
To improve your chances of achieving a successful planning outcome at a local level, you need to go beyond simply ticking boxes and reacting to opposition and, instead, bring stakeholders into the fold. Resistance to change is often worse when people feel it's being imposed on them, so avoid this by involving people more. You can help to calm fears by putting risks into context and highlighting benefits.
It's all about engaging stakeholders in conversation. Do it the wrong way and for the wrong reasons and you'll find it hard to win community acceptance for your plans.