The importance of good public consultation for major infrastructure projects

It has never been more important to carry out goof consultation and stakeholder engagement. Here, planning expert Rebecca Ives Rose, conference producer at Waterfront Conference Company explains why.

Early and effective communication with key stakeholders is an essential part of any major infrastructure planning application. Not only is it a statutory requirement, it can often reflect how your scheme is viewed by the public and how you, as a company, are perceived by the community.

With new technologies enabling communities to engage much more easily with new projects, and the rise in social media ensuring everyone, everywhere can have their say – whether they are for or against and sharing fact or fiction, it has never been more important to have a plan in place that ensures information being broadcast about your scheme is correct and fair. Taking control of the situation is key.

What are the real consequences of failing to consult correctly? It has been demonstrated in the case of Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal that failure to consult with all the required consultees and communicate the details of your project correctly can cause serious problems. Here, the first application of the project was rejected for this very reason, causing delays to the scheme and, of course, incurring extensive costs as a result.

Furthermore, if people are not aware of your plans from an early stage, they may feel that their opinion has been overlooked and that the consultation is simply an afterthought – a tick box exercise with no real substance. Alienating, and worse angering, your consultees will only lead to mistrust and will inevitably increase the number of objections to your scheme, again causing delays and further problems.

With large scale projects, you also need to consider that emotions can run high in the local communities. For instance, if there is talk of pylons and overhead lines being constructed in open countryside, people may react strongly and with fierce opposition, so early communication is vital to allow developers to explain what is happening and present all the options – thus building much needed trust. In some instances with grid infrastructure, local communities have had such strong objections, and the positions and resources to voice these, that new, less suitable locations, have had to be found for projects.

See case studies of our stakeholder work.