It’s been 14 years since the introduction of the Planning Act 2008 and little has fundamentally changed in infrastructure planning since. It’s a well-known process and, in most parts, well-liked by the industry. But while the world has changed immeasurably since 2008, the process seems not to have evolved to suit. Andrew Weaver, Copper’s Director of Infrastructure, looks at what the British Energy Security Strategy (ESS) tells us about the future of infrastructure planning.

To meet the challenges of today, the government has signalled that change to infrastructure planning is coming. Consultation on making the regime quicker and more fit for purpose took place last year. And with the release of the ESS, the green shoots of change can be seen. The question remains, what change and will it be enough to deliver the infrastructure the country needs to reach net zero?

The government has set out a clear desire to consent infrastructure projects quicker, particularly in the energy sector. The ESS sets out their ambition to cut offshore wind consenting from up to four years down to one year. We understand the saving is in reference to the period after DCO submission. Promoters and developers will be delighted I’m sure.

There is mention of trimming the timescales for the examination process. Given the Government’s record on sticking to existing timescales for decisions – around a third of applications under Boris Johnson’s premiership have been delayed at the point of decision – it is doubtful this is really going to make the difference.

Updates to National Policy Statements are promised and there is recognition of the need to consider how projects interact with each other, potentially grouping applications to enable a holistic approach to delivery. Both of these are long overdue. From a public perspective seeing projects for energy transmission in isolation to each other let alone the energy production has long been a difficult subject to explain. It would be good to see this rolled out to other sectors where understanding of the end product is essential to consenting its constituent parts – carbon capture storage springs to mind.

There is little more to add at this stage. Perhaps the Queen’s Speech will reveal more.

In the meantime, for me, greater change is surely required to meet our country’s need for speed. Planning needs to be simplified and offer the certainty and clarity promised back when the current regime was instigated in 2008. Change needs to go further than cherry picking certain types of infrastructure such as offshore wind and solar. It needs to be wholesale so that there is a consistent approach that the public and stakeholders can quickly understand and engage with.

The process also needs to become more transparent and less legally thick. To paraphrase Kwasi Kwarteng, you can’t build infrastructure where people don’t want it. The public support infrastructure projects if they can see how they would individually benefit from them. Ensuring there is a clear understanding around the need for projects and taking the public on the journey through the planning process is critical to timely delivery. Having a clear process to base these messages off is essential. Government has a role to plan in owning this message and communicating it to communities.

Change is needed and is coming. We’re seeing the shoots in the ESS and as an industry we should be ready to embrace it. We’ve got a good process to build on. Now it’s about stripping this back and dealing with what is essential to making a decision.

Challenge

The West Midlands Interchange (WMI) is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) located in South Staffordshire. The new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange will sit adjacent to the West Coast Mainline and span 300 hectares. Copper was tasked with delivering consultation and engagement services to support the Development Consent Order (DCO), as well as communications and support building.

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Insight

It has been long-established that a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange in the area was essential to address the shortage of logistics capacity in the West Midlands. However, with the development planned on Green Belt land, there were significant concerns about its impact on wildlife, the landscape and daily lives. As a result, it faced fierce opposition. Misinformation around the scheme compounded the problem.

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Strategy

Our strategy was to develop a national and regional advocacy programme and proactive media campaign to manage misinformation and build understanding around the need and benefits of the project to minimise risk of objection. The approach centred on telling the story of West Midlands Interchange in ways that related to local residents and stakeholders, bringing its benefits to life for the area.

Amplify

By creating a business story emphasising the need and benefits of new rail freight capacity in the West Midlands, we helped the public and stakeholders understand the major economic benefit to the area. The scheme is set to create more than 8,500 jobs and attract significant industry as well as reduce traffic across the region’s roads and introduce new parkland in the vicinity, all of which was little understood.

We also established and delivered a contact centre to ensure the public felt heard and could get answers to their questions quickly. Not only did it manage concerns that otherwise might have escalated into issues, but it also helped strengthen the project’s reputation and pave the way for acceptance.

Re-enforcing the positive impact across the region also supported the project funder’s reputation, positioning it as playing a key role in levelling up in the UK by investing in infrastructure in the Midlands.

Outcome

By developing and delivering a transparent two-stage consultation process, including compliant statutory consultation, we helped ensure West Midlands Interchange was accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate. Local authorities complimented the consultation delivery, and the consultation report was well appraised during the examination period.

WMI was granted development consent in May 2020 and we continue to work with the project as it enters construction.

Challenge

Viking Link is a planned 1400-MW interconnector between the UK and Denmark. It comprises over 760km of underground subsea cables between converter stations at Bicker Fen in the UK and Revsing in Denmark. The onshore cables run 68km from the Lincolnshire coast to the inland converter station.

Alongside National Grid and a multidisciplinary project team, Copper was brought on board to lead the communications and consultation activity across three consultation phases for this sensitive project.

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Insight

This project was politically sensitive and politically charged, spanning multiple local authorities and Westminster constituency boundaries. As a result, communications needed to be meticulously planned to avoid additional conflict and secure political acceptance.

Linked to this was public opposition to EU-backed projects resulting from the timing of the pre-application phase, which coincided with the Brexit referendum, and a high proportion of Leave voters in Lincolnshire.

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Strategy

Given the project sensitivities, it called for an engagement and community-led approach. Central to this was developing a compelling need and benefits narrative to help stakeholders and the public understand what the project means for their community.

The geographical spread of the development required a wide-reaching consultation strategy to ensure all corners of the communities along the route could share their views. Alongside this, we focused on bringing political stakeholders into the conversation through a robust political engagement strategy.

Such a large, linear utility project spanning five local authority areas necessitated a collaborative project team approach to consultation and engagement.

Amplify

Alongside crafting an audience-focused narrative to bring the project to life for local people, we created a straightforward narrative to articulate the complex route and siting process ahead of the route options consultation. This helpef built project understanding and emphasised its positive contribution to the local community in a way that was accessible to a broad audience.

With equal emphasis on engaging political stakeholders, in conjunction with the project team and National Grid, we developed a political engagement campaign that kept MPs and councillors fully briefed on the project, focusing on the scheme’s advantages for the local area.

We also delivered a communications and stakeholder ‘drumbeat’ outside of key consultation milestones, which was vital to maintaining momentum and building acceptance and advocacy for the project. This included regular political briefings spanning site visits and presentations at full council meetings and hosting our own events.

Outcome

The multi-pronged, collaborative approach resulted in high levels of participation from residents, landowners, parish councils, elected members and community and stakeholder groups. More than 1,000 local residents and stakeholders participated in the consultation, providing 600 pieces of meaningful feedback to help shape and guide the project.

Viking Link is currently under construction and expected to be operational in 2023.

Challenge

The Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) which, along with its sister project – Norfolk Vanguard – will have an installed capacity of 3.6GW, representing 10% of UK household demand.

The 725km2 wind farm site is located 72km off the North Norfolk coast and will consist of between 90 and 180 wind turbines with rated capacities of between 10MW and 20MW.

Copper was brought in to deliver compliant consultation and stakeholder engagement, fast.

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Insight

Projects of this size and scale bring a level of interest and concern amongst local residents and businesses. However, Vattenfall’s flagship UK projects faced increased scrutiny. Developments of this kind are becoming ubiquitous along the whole Norfolk coast, and Vattenfall’s projects are just two of several proposals. As a result, there was vocal opposition to associated onshore, above-ground infrastructure. With the potential to adversely impact communities along the cable route too, a compelling narrative and engaging consultation were imperative.

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Strategy

Given the level of scepticism and misgivings about such infrastructure, our priority was to build trust and earn respect from stakeholders and local communities.

Amplify

With a requirement to deliver ‘gold standard’ consultation at pace, the first step was to understand the key audiences – who they were, their likely perceptions and potential concerns, to be as targeted and proactive as possible. Using stakeholder mapping, we identified and gathered insight into key stakeholders, community groups and general public audiences. Armed with intelligent data, we delivered audience-focused workshops and events and held meetings to discover and address concerns, proactively resolving issues.

Throughout the consultation period, we delivered 31 community consultation events and workshops and organised more than 200 meetings with the local parish councils, groups and representatives. In addition, we supported seven events people and proactively engaged with 100% of landowners along the cable corridor.

Our creative team supported the audience-centric, proactive approach with a full suite of statutory consultation material in an easy-to-understand format. The materials were designed to articulate the project, its benefits and encourage input from stakeholders and the community. Assets included a consultation summary booklet, information banners, response form and bespoke information leaflets.

Outcome

We secured a high volume of meaningful feedback during the consultation, which formed the basis for a comprehensive consultation report, and the project received consent in December 2021.

Challenge

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is part of the Government’s strategy to keep the lights on in the UK. National Grid is building a high-voltage grid connection for the project, between Bridgwater and Seabank near Avonmouth. In 2009, we were tasked to develop and deliver a consultation strategy to support the Development Consent Order application. We have been retained ever since, taking this major project from planning through to construction. The project is in construction, and we continue to support National Grid and its contractors. Our team also works to protect and enhance National Grid’s reputation to leave a positive legacy for the project.

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Insight

Hinkley Point C is a nationally significant infrastructure project and a major investment in the region’s electricity network. However there was significant local opposition to the proposals throughout the planning and development stages. This posed a risk to the project if it were to continue into the construction stage. We needed to switch the communications approach from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ and reposition the narrative to concentrate on the project’s benefits.

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Strategy

We worked closely with National Grid’s team to identify and promote positive stories about the project. We used this as the foundation to develop and implement a sustainable programme of project communications to meet the formal requirements of the Development Consent Order.

To minimise the risks of project delays, opposition and criticism we provide clear and timely information to stakeholders about the work in their area too, and quickly respond to any concerns. We devised procedures to inform and update local communities and other stakeholders about construction work and the steps National Grid and its contractors take to reduce local impact. We also put processes in place to monitor the mood of local communities, allowing us to identify and respond rapidly to any emerging issues.

Amplify

Since construction started, we have communicated with more than 10,000 households. We also maintain and regular update a project website, making it the ‘go to’ place for stakeholders to learn the latest information. We have established positive relationships with local community groups and parish councils and use these links to help spread information as widely as possible. Should there be any concerns amongst the public, a responsive 24-hour contact centre service enables the local community to get a swift response.

Outcome

Despite the highly disruptive nature of the work, there is widespread public acceptance of the project. A minimal number of complaints have been received and no issues have been escalated by local residents or community stakeholders to the media or their elected members. These successes have given National Grid the confidence to reposition the project narrative going forward. In the future, communications and engagement will place an even greater emphasis on the positive impact and benefits National Grid will bring to the area over the next five years and beyond.

Overview

HyNet North West is an innovative carbon capture and hydrogen project to unlock a low carbon economy for the North West and North Wales. It will put the region at the forefront of the UK’s drive to net zero. By creating the UK’s first low-carbon hydrogen cluster, the project seeks to provide clean hydrogen energy for the future, de-carbonise the region’s heavy industry, protect existing jobs and create thousands of new ones.  

As the project moved towards a more public-facing stage, we were engaged to evolve the HyNet North West brand and tasked to create a communications campaign to support the launch of the public consultation for the first stage of the project.

Activity

Website
We developed the UI designs and redeveloped the HyNet webite, simplifying the navigation and streamlining information. We created a series of graphics and assets that could be utilised across multiple channels, as well as on the website.

Consultation hub
Sitting alongside the website, we developed a consultation microsite to support the first consultation on the HyNet North West project. The look and feel reflected the overarching HyNet brand.

Social
We develop social graphics to support HyNet’s key messages, encourage engagement and explain complex concepts to stakeholders and the public We develop social graphics to support HyNet’s key messages, encourage engagement and explain complex concepts to stakeholders and the public.

Animation
HyNet North West is made up of several different projects, the first of which is a carbon capture pipeline. We designed and delivered an animation to help explain key elements of the project in an accessible way, enabling people to easily respond to the project’s public consultation.

Outcome

The public responded very favourably to the campaign. There were more than 8,000 visits to the consultation hub website during the non-statutory consultation period, driven by promotional materials and social media.

We saw a marked increase in social media engagement across multiple channels, with Twitter seeing a 279% increase in impressions, LinkedIn experiencing a 303% increase in new followers and HyNet North West’s Facebook account having more than an 8,433% increase in engagement.

The campaign built a positive platform for future stages of consultation and engagement needed for HyNet North West to succeed.

Welcome to Copper’s Infrastructure Insights, where this week we discuss the necessary steps needed to fulfil the UK’s net zero ambitions and perceptions towards renewable energy projects.

 

UK will miss net zero target without urgent action, warns Lords committee – Committees – UK Parliament

The House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee has published its net zero transformation report, concluding that the Government is likely to miss its 2050 net zero target while it lacks credible plans to encourage essential investment.

The committee is calling for a new Energy Transformation Taskforce within Government to lead on setting and co-ordinating net zero strategy and policy.

Analysis

Any suggestions around increasing the financial burden on consumers are likely to be highly contentious given the existing cost of living crisis. Decisions on funding, borrowing and regulation need to be made as a matter of urgency for the UK to attract overseas investment.

As MPs and other public figures continue to raise new objections to the UK’s green agenda, the Government must clarify their approach to net zero. Copper’s public attitudes to net zero and infrastructure report demonstrated the importance of capitalising on public support for green projects, suggesting that organisations should establish clear roadmaps outlining small steps balancing the cost of green growth across the private and public sectors.

Our journey to net zero will require public support, which will depend a great deal on effective communication and transparency.

 

Tory MPs urge bigger ‘floating’ wind target to boost energy security –Financial Times

Members of the Conservative Environment Network have urged business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to increase targets for “floating” offshore wind farms – to strengthen the UK’s energy security in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its accompanying impact on gas prices.

Analysis

While the Government faces challenges regarding a lack of clarity over their road to net zero, floating offshore wind presents them with a clear opportunity to lead the offshore wind sector globally. The Government’s net zero strategy incorporates a wide range of technologies. Clearly communicating their benefits to the public is crucial to the UK fulfilling its net zero ambitions.

Ben Heatley, Managing Partner at Copper consultancy looks ahead at the major infrastructure trends that may come to pass this year.

Thank goodness 2021 has come to an end, and roll on 2022.

It was a challenging year. We’ve all had to live with the impact of Covid-19 for far too long, and thankfully we can now say with confidence that it’s finally behind us. No more working from home, loads of healthy face to face interaction, and no more talk of who did or didn’t do what at Christmas parties…

……. erm, sadly it doesn’t look as though that first prediction is going to come true. Sorry.

We continue to live in tumultuous times, and as such my greatest piece of advice is please treat all predictions in this blog with a healthy dose of skepticism. Covid is continuing to confound our expectations, as just as we think the pandemic is under control, the virus squirms free once more.

And Covid isn’t the only socio economic or political storm on the horizon. The supply chain crisis, staffing shortages in essential industries, slowing economic growth and rising inflation – particularly in energy prices, and political instability within the Government all suggest that we could be in for a bumpy start to the year.

Anyone who tells you that they know what will happen this year, is either over confident or under informed. Despite my better judgment, I am going to try to make a few predictions of key themes that may emerge in our industry in the year ahead. Just don’t hold it against me if they don’t come true.

Covid won’t go away…yet

Here’s an easy one to begin with. It’s clear that despite everyone’s best efforts, we are not through with Covid, or more accurately Covid isn’t through with us. It will almost certainly have some impact all our working and personal lives for the first half of this year and maybe longer. In the short term it’ll mean more working from home, collaborating virtually and reinforcing precautions around hands, face, space. But the longer term outcome may be that we learn to live with the disease, within the confines of the ‘new normal’, and that new status quo could impact everything from transport and energy demands, to housing needs.

Levelling-Up and levelling out

The Government will 100% meet their revised deadline of publishing the Levelling-Up White Paper in January…or at least February. Almost certainly.

When the much awaited document is released, it could introduce sweeping changes to structures of local government, along with setting demanding targets to improve outcomes in health, housing, crime and economic opportunity, which will influence the approach to every area of infrastructure. Even ahead of the publication, it’s clear that the Government is getting serious about Levelling Up and investment, policy and planning decisions will be increasingly influenced by it.

The birth of the ‘Govian Era’ of planning

We are all familiar with Georgian architecture and Victorian infrastructure. We should now brace ourselves for the coming Govian era of planning, as Michael Gove makes good on his promise to deliver substantive change. The Planning White Paper has been postponed, and it’s hard to predict what it will contain when it comes back, but it’s reasonable to assume that it will reinforce wider Levelling-Up ambitions and reflect Michael Gove’s aspirations to be a reforming force in British politics.

UK, the Saudi Arabia, or perhaps more like the Denmark of low carbon energy

The pace of transformation of the UK’s energy system looks set to accelerate in 2022. Major offshore wind auctions will reach new stages in Scotland and Wales, we are starting to see a boom in solar energy projects as they help to bridge the gap between gas and large scale wind, and there will gradually be a comeback for onshore wind – hopefully. Meanwhile 2022 looks set to be the year that small modular reactors and hydrogen based industrial clusters finally get going in a meaningful way.

Growth

All of the predictions so far will be subject to change. Covid and its aftermath will impact our industry, but it’s hard to predict how much. The Government will drive political priorities that will shape the decision making and policy framework, but the makeup of the government could change dramatically, with Boris Johnson under increasing pressure from within his own party. Energy transition could be hit by significant political upheaval, shifts in demand, or economic pressures, as the UK seems to tread a tightrope between consumer prices and net zero transition.

Despite that uncertainty, it’s hard to anticipate that the infrastructure sector will do anything but grow this year. The roll out of sustainable integrated transport, net zero energy systems, and resilient water systems that can cope with climate change, will require enormous investment, and time is rapidly ticking by. Add in the vast amount of social infrastructure required to make good on Levelling-Up and the scale of the task is enormous.

Economics will also play a key role in driving expansion. The UK’s GDP growth is stalling and productivity is far lower than it could be. To address these issues simultaneously will require concerted public and private sector effort and spending on infrastructure is one of the few levers the Government can reliably pull.

In the Union Connectivity Review, Independent Chair Sir Peter Hendy concluded that the Government’s policies to build back better and level up require different, strategic cases for transport investment across the country. The review built on the ambitions of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), widening its scope from transforming connectivity in England to the rest of the Union.

Hendy’s Review emphasised economic growth, job creation and social cohesion, themes that have since been echoed by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The potential implications of this are far-reaching – covering a wide range of projects, from the pre-application stage all the way through to construction. If implemented, its recommendations will offer plenty of opportunities as well as challenges, with planners and contractors potentially having to navigate very different infrastructure planning systems and political landscapes at the same time.

The Review outlined recommendations to improve connectivity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Chair’s words, these provide ‘comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom’.

For Scotland, this could mean reduced rail journey times and increased capacity on the west coast main line, alongside an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.

In Wales, it recommended improving the North Wales coast main line and rail links to the Midlands from Cardiff. It also recommended improvements to the A55, M53 and M56 roads and the South Wales Corridor. As anticipated in our latest edition of infrastructure insights, it also recommends improving port capacity at Holyhead, identifying the North Wales Coast Line as a key route for communities and businesses.

However, Welsh MPs are asking why the Government has decided Wales is not entitled to a share of HS2 spending (as per the IRP), with Liz Saville Roberts saying it ‘reveals the reality of this union of inequality’. Such concerns highlight the importance of clearly communicating the purpose of reports and the relationships between them.

Over the Irish Sea, this could mean upgrading the key A75 link to improve freight and passenger connectivity (Northern Ireland).

The Report also recommended the following:

  • Design and implement UKNET, a strategic transport network for the UK. UKNET will assess and map out key points across the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections. With additional funding and regular review, this can better serve the UK’s social and economic needs.
  • Plan improvements using multimodal corridors to support levelling up and net zero.
  • Support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in areas that are particularly reliant on aviation for domestic connectivity.

The UK Government will now carefully consider these recommendations in detail and work to identify the solutions that work best for the people of the UK – although the Prime Minister has already committed to setting up UKNET: “If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.

“Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links – not only bringing us closer together but boosting jobs, prosperity and opportunity,” he said. The Review was also praised by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The Review is a positive step towards a better-connected, more economically buoyant United Kingdom. But, its success will depend on the delivery of relevant, benefits-focused narratives and engagement tailored to local people. Associate Director Pippa Gibbs Joubert tells us more about successful engagement for infrastructure projects.