Can we use the lessons learnt from the Planning Act 2008 to create deeper stakeholder relationships for infrastructure developments?

Andrew Weaver, Director of Infrastructure and Major Projects at Copper Consultancy, looks at public engagement lessons we can learn from the last 10 years.

The Planning Act 2008 (the Act) changed the face of infrastructure planning. One fundamental change was to put the onus on promoters to identify and address issues before applications are submitted, with legislation requiring pre-application consultation and guidance encouraging wide engagement.

The transition to the new regime was difficult for many promoters, especially those in the regulated industries where previously the need for consultation on developments was limited. Those that were most successful at the transition worked out that, while the consultation process was useful in identifying the issues at specific set milestones, it required much wider public engagement to achieve successful outcomes for their projects.

Projects that engaged early and communicated the need for and benefits of infrastructure set a base level of understanding in favour of development, on which the detail and key issues for the public and organisations could be discussed. On the flip side, those that took a transactional approach to consultation and engagement, sticking close to the legislation but not heeding the guidance for wider engagement, found that stakeholders were frustrated by process and the limited opportunities to influence project development.

Now 10 years on from the introduction of the Act, the processes and guidance are well understood by the industry – and with this maturity comes opportunity to use the lessons learnt to address other challenges the UK faces. Copper’s 2017 research on public attitudes to infrastructure identified housing as the top investment priority for the UK, reflecting the urgent need for the delivery of new settlements in the next 20 to 25 years. Large-scale mixed-use projects are one way to achieve this, drawing on the collaborative strength of strategic need and commercial demand.

Our milestone ‘10 years of the Planning Act’ study will assess how industry feels project risk could be further reduced, both through better public understanding of the regime itself, and also through the deepening of promoters’ relationships with people and organisations.

Given what we have learnt about how the Act encourages and rewards developers who invest in deeper stakeholder relationships, how can this be used to give developers more confidence with local communities? Does knowing that their project has the balance of national need and specific legislative requirements behind it help?

I encourage everyone to get involved in the study and let us know your experience over the last 10 years, and what lessons we can take for the future.

Those who have engaged with the DCO regime established by the Planning Act 2008 should click here.

Those who have not engaged with the DCO regime established by the Planning Act 2008 should click here.