Written for the June edition of CIWM Journal, John Twitchen outlines the wider benefits that an infrastructure project, and its subsequent construction, can bring… such as leaving a legacy:

Historically, industry has been coy about the benefits that infrastructure and its construction, operation, maintenance and use bring. This is especially the case when it comes to wider benefits – the things that an infrastructure project will enable, not just directly deliver, such as improving opportunity.

London 2012 perhaps marks a watershed in the importance of what a project delivers and leaves behind – its legacy. The Olympic legacy was a core element of the Games, from engagement and tourism to improvements to travel and significant regeneration and investment in East London. But the legacy runs much, much deeper. It continues to deliver through a commitment to sport, access to education and skills, and continuing investment in infrastructure, in particular cycling.

But perhaps the greatest legacy that the Olympics left behind is the concept of legacy being a core element of a major project.

Wider benefits have been part of the appraisal for major projects for some time, and yet all too often we are reticent to talk about these benefits, let alone trumpet them.

HM Treasury’s Guidance – The Green Book – sets out how to prepare and appraise proposed policies, programmes or projects to obtain best public value and manage risks, and how to identify the relevant benefits and costs that should be taken into account in a project appraisal. It states:

“The relevant costs and benefits to government and society of all options should be valued, and the net benefits or costs calculated.”

The Green book also states:

“Wider social and environmental costs and benefits for which there is no market price also need to be brought into any assessment. They will often be more difficult to assess but are often important and should not be ignored simply because they cannot easily be costed.”

It provides guidance on how costs and benefits can be brought into project appraisal; however, assessments are often based on subjective judgements as well as data gathered from external stakeholders… Which means talking to people rather than doing a sum. The Major Projects Association has set up a working group to address the wider benefits, and recently held a conference on the subject. Copper continues to support the working group.

So why are we, industry, and in particular the resource management sector, reticent? There are three reasons for this:

• Socio-economic impact assessments are often rushed, lightweight and high level
• Assessments are often done late in the process, rather than being a core component
• Wider benefits are not valued or costed.

We will have to work much harder to make projects acceptable and demonstrate the acceptability – never more so than over the next five to ten years, with a clear political focus on local decision making. Sometimes the need case is enough to get a development over the finish line, but more often than not, it isn’t. Making the case for the wider benefits can substantially improve the acceptability of a project.

Copper’s stakeholder mapping and risk-influencer tools can help shape a project’s communications and engagement strategy from project inception.

Often, technical and planning consultancies tack-on a socio-economic chapter pulling together the basic strands of research from each of the other chapters of the Environmental Statement (ES) written by the various technical disciplines, rather than employing a dedicated, experienced resource to prepare the assessment. Additionally, merely looking at data is 2-D – socio-economic impact assessment is multi-dimensional.

So if you haven’t assessed it thoroughly, and haven’t committed to it early on, you won’t be in a position to proactively discuss the wider benefits with local stakeholders and potential advocates, and you will find it much more difficult to work with interested parties to develop and ground any benefits.

Copper’s Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) methodology is a six-step approach which enables the systematic analysis and evaluation of the potential social and economic impacts of proposed developments on the lives and circumstances of local people, and communities.

Using our public affairs, research and intelligence-gathering expertise, we begin by establishing evidential data to build a detailed picture of the socio-economic baseline conditions, relevant policies and legislation. The potential for a community investment package is identified, shaped and evolved as part of a stakeholder and community engagement plan.

The assessment characterises potential impacts in planning consent terms i.e. significant or not significant. The robustness of the service includes documentation of a solid evidence base for SEIA judgements. The socio-economic chapter should identify approaches to reduce, remove or prevent adverse impact from occurring whilst stimulating and supporting beneficial impacts of the development in question.

In essence, Copper’s SEIA methodology considers the nature, sensitivity and magnitude across a range of impacts in relation to local receptors. Our analysis then enables us to identify the likely significance of the development on local receptors – often, people. The output from the assessment is presented under four key headings:

• Economic impact: impact on direct, indirect, induced employment, expenditure and potential economic investment opportunities as a result of the development.
• Local communities: impact on local services, community infrastructure and local population.
• Tourism, recreation and land use: relevance to and impact on local tourism and recreation amenity, land use and associated development.
• Cumulative effects and inter-relationships: impact of the development in relation to other projects within the local area in a similar timeframe and an assessment of the effects from a number of different impacts on a one receptor.

Copper is leading the SEIA for a proposed major onshore wind farm development, working with a number of technical consultants and our own team of community relations and business engagement experts to build up the multi-dimensional and multi-criteria assessment.

So what’s the difference?

This approach ensures all effects are considered, including the relevance of the beneficial effects (as well as identifying and mitigating any social or economic impacts which may be negative). For the most part, the other chapters within the ES are assessing adverse impacts and mitigating against them. In the SEIA, the developer has the opportunity to illustrate the potential benefits of a project, whether that’s employment, expenditure, improvements to local infrastructure or wider access to skills, training or services as a result of the project. In some cases, with visitor centres there is scope to increase tourism to a local area, or to make a significant contribution to education and skills.

But most of all, it is the difference this approach makes in demonstrating a commitment not just to measure effects and positive impacts, but to discuss how they can be grounded – how theory may be put into practice, by who, with whom. It brings a much greater degree of certainty to the benefits where you have local amenity groups, educationalists and business leaders engaged in working with you to help shape the benefits of the project from an early stage.

And all of this means you’re out there, proactively talking to people about some of the positives of your project.

You can view the original article in CIWM Journal by clicking the following link: CIWM June 2015 JT article.