Our Account Manager, Lucia Maclachlan, attended the second virtual instalment of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Forum 2021 today which focused on the impact of climate change on past, present and future decisions. She recalls her four key-takeaways below.

1. Digital will be the new norm

On the one-year anniversary of the UK going into a lockdown as a result of COVID-19, digital forms of communication have been somewhat accelerated, particularly in the infrastructure sector. A digital-first approach, once considered a supplementary tactic, is now an essential part of project promotion.

However, it’s clear that there is still a long way to go. Applicants and promoters alike are expected to think outside of the box with regards to digital engagement.

What can be done to make your documents fully interactive (whilst remaining accessible), as opposed to creating PDF versions of traditional print documents.

Through all of this, we need to make sure that as an industry, we continue to strive for accessibility and inclusivity and remain aware that digital is not the only way to consult and engage with those affected or interested in our projects. This prevents the risk of digital exclusion.

2. Pre-application engagement is key to reducing risk

Early and continuous engagement with statutory bodies is essential to ensuring the submission of an application which has significantly reduced risks. By bringing stakeholders and consultees along on the journey, applicants and consultees alike can problem solve, and often reduce the cost and effect of the proposed development.

Clark Gordon, Environment Agency, also highlighted the importance of cross-engagement with other bodies who have the same or similar interests, to ensure that a range of opinions, specialist advice and insight is included in the decision making process.

3. The Climate Change Act 2008 (amended) versus National Policy Statements

As an industry, projects are often compared to one another and used as lessons learnt for future developments; a series of landmark legal decisions last year (2020) has only made this more apparent.

At present, it is clear that projects must be assessed on an individual basis against their relevant National Policy Statement (NPS). However, following the overturning of the Heathrow decision by the Supreme Court last year (2020), the subsequent reinstatement of the Airports NPS (ANPS) and the suggested sixth carbon budget, it’s becoming more apparent that there are increased difficulties around securing a DCO without subsequent challenge. Applicants, whilst not obligated to consider this with regards to their application, should be mindful of these risks in relation to reputational protection and take action to mitigate this through carrying out early and thorough stakeholder engagement.

4. Consistency, clarity and consideration

  • Be consistent –this not only applies to project descriptions, but the way in which people are engaged to include the format and frequency of engagement.
  • Be clear – what do you actually mean? Can others who may not be experts in these fields but are interested, understand project messaging? Different organisations have different reading age targets, for example the government guidance states that National Policy Statements should cater to a reading age of 14, but Highways England’s corporate communications has a target reading age of 9.
  • Be considerate – timing is key here. It’s understood that projects have a programme determined by many factors, but consider holiday periods and other consultations or ongoing engagement with regards to the same development to avoid ‘consultation fatigue’.