Lowering the conversation, thinking locally, acting with communities

Lowering the conversation, thinking locally, acting with communities

Written by Andrew Turner, Senior Account Director at Madano

Recently I was asked to give my thoughts on how to stop an infrastructure development. Other than feeling like a game keeper turned poacher. This got me thinking about the pre-application process. As a developer you can pay to get advice on how to apply for a development. But what about the dialogue for those opposing one?

Going further than this, there is a shifting of the sands. In recent years major projects have been questioned on their impact financially, costs to be passed on to the customer, or the disruption to communities. Given recent global movements with bridges being block in London and flying protests across the World – there is a different risk to tomorrow’s projects.

When conceiving and planning a development, how often does the project team consider the granular details and objectives of the community (social and environmental). What can a proposed development do to enable or restrict the community’s aspiration of access, ecological investment and climate resilience. Activists go forensic – protesting against a company that makes train signals deployed on a railroad to a coal mine being one example.

Thinking about stopping developments can be the key to unlocking the risks to building them in the first place. Traditional lines of engagement have eroded away. Activists can develop structured and complex campaigns opposing projects over a perceived small issue, adding cost and time delays. But can developers outthink an activist community? Can constructive engagement deliver better results and scan the horizon for potential risks before they emerge for the project and community alike?

Mirroring this shift, the World Economic Forum published its long-term risk outlook, a matrix that asks global experts their biggest worries in recent years. This year biodiversity loss ranks in the top four risks in terms of Likelihood and Impact to the World alongside extreme weather, humanmade environmental disasters and climate action failure.

This is especially interesting when you look at the longer-term picture. Back in 2007 ‘infrastructure breakdown’ was ranked 1st on the risk list however, has fallen out of contention on the list by the time we get to 2020. Pre-2013 energy price volatility, oil and gas prices dominated the list and now is absent.

NIMBYism is an overused term, emerging to describe opposition to large scale energy generation. But we are now seeing a bigger, more popularist movement awakening using ecological and climate impacts of development as rationale to block projects. Does this mean communities have become familiar with infrastructure or have their perspectives changed? Closer to home in recent weeks, HS2 has been criticised around the risks tocarbon-storing’ habitats and biodiversity by the Wildlife Trusts. Traditionally we have seen similar concerns handled through mitigation and net-biodiversity benefit. However, a new generation of conscious individuals are making front page news with stories about the loss of natural carbon sinks damaging biodiversity in ancient woodlands.

Project teams need to consider changing the narrative. This involves moving away from islands of stability and stock answers to get amongst local negative issues, appraise them and then build capacity within proposals to develop a sense of community ownership and adaption to pressure points. In this age of social media and Extinction Rebellion, campaign groups can mobilise national support in hours. It is critical that there is resilience within a project team to respond to queries and issues before they lead to delays and impact commercial viability.

Organisations need to get local and stay local. They need to understand concerns, mitigate risks and ensure local stakeholders are properly represented and have less reason to press the big red panic buttons of national campaigns and petitions to fulfil their community objectives alongside major projects.

Madano advises clients in the energy and environment space – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.