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.
‘The future of urban futuring.’
This is the tagline greeting you when you visit betterstreets.ai – a simple, no-frills landing page that gets straight to the point. What founder and artist Zach Katz instead wants you to focus on is what he’s offering; a unique window into a world no longer burdened by clogged-up road networks, dangerous pedestrian footpaths and unsightly roadworks.
We held our first Active Travel Webinar in June, in which a key conversation topic was centred around ‘the battle for road space’. From this, it was suggested by our panellists that the UK’s archaic road network was not fit for purpose to yet promote modal shift.
Fans of the television show Westworld will know that Season 4 has reimagined New York City as an almost car-free city, apart from a few autonomous vehicles. The show sees characters walking through quiet pedestrianised streets dotted with plazas, green spaces and an abundance of outdoor seating; a complete juxtaposition of the New York we all know today. This high-budget, polished CGI is captivating, but what do you do when you don’t have a multi-million dollar HBO budget? And what if you want to see the same, but in Slough?
Better Streets has brilliantly highlighted the potential of our existing streets.
The AI software uses text inputs to create a unique image, transforming any traffic-laden street into a bustling pedestrian walkway, a cycle-led active travel route or a grassy tram route in seconds.
The renders aren’t perfect, but they are igniting people’s imagination and, perhaps most importantly, getting more and more people talking about the alternatives to our current travel network. As we look to further embrace multi-modal transport systems in our towns and cities, a simple and relatively cheap piece of technology such as this could be the spark needed.
Copper understands the power that visualisation can have on audiences, enabling them to engage with complex infrastructure projects and understand exactly how it may affect them. This, in turn, enables us to have honest and open conversations. We can work with you to produce animations, renders and other visual-based engagement activities to enhance your project or programme of improvements.
As Katz says: “visualising things is the most powerful way to effect change”.
Transport for the North is refreshing the Strategic Transport Plan, which was published in 2019, setting out the investment needed to transform the lives of people in the North and level up the country. Even though the North is home to over 15 million people and 1.1 million businesses, the region’s overall productivity still trails behind the UK average.
The Strategic Transport Plan sets out a bold vision for connecting people to jobs, health, education and leisure opportunities – all of which are fundamental aspects of life. To rebalance decades of underinvestment and transform the North, the plan identifies different modes which require coordinated investment, such as rail, roads, smart travel and sustainable transport. Transport for the North is also working on developing a new Analytical Framework that will be able to model future economic impacts based on various scenarios, alongside planning for more tight-knit relationships with the North’s Local Transport Authorities (LTAs).
A key element of the major road network would be to deliver the needs of rural communities, ensuring that the transport networks support access to jobs and education. The Strategic Transport Plan outlines how multimodal strategic investment in new transport infrastructure could support up to £100 billion growth in GVA, which will create an additional 850,000 jobs by 2050.
Copper welcomes Transport for the North’s commitment to sustainable transport, as it is crucial that alongside investment in rail and roads, more is done to encourage behaviour change to increase various forms of active travel. As mentioned in the plan and recently updated policy positions, targeting short trips that could be undertaken by public transport, cycling or walking, and moving people away from driving, is not good only for the environment but also for people’s health. Investing in improved public transport, cycle lanes and walking infrastructure is beneficial to everyone and can also positively impact the footfall in city centres, therefore improving economic growth.
All of this is crucial to achieving the goals set in the document, and should be carefully considered while the plan is being refreshed in a world of changing behaviours and uncertainty. Transport for the North should now consider developing a meaningful and thorough engagement strategy that will enable the body to better understand where the improvements are needed the most to simultaneously boost economic growth and net zero travel.
The body should also consider the most effective way to engage with all levels of local government in a shifting local authority landscape, in light of the recent Levelling Up White Paper devolution proposals. While the plan is about addressing regional connectivity, refreshing the plan will also require proactive and considered contributions by TfN’s member authorities who understand local issues across the region.
The latest Copper Consultancy’s Public Attitudes Research finds that the more an individual knows about infrastructure, the more likely they are to engage with projects. That’s why understanding people is one of the crucial steps to successful engagement – involving both people who will be affected by the changes, as well as those who will benefit the most.
Learn more about TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan and the refreshed work here.
Transport Committee inquiry findings
Today, the Transport Committee has released its mixed inquiry findings into the Integrated Rail Plan, the £96Bn flagship government levelling up policy which set out how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 would be integrated to deliver a network of high speed lines across the Midlands and the North.
While the committee report does welcome the scale of the Government’s promised spending on improving rail in the North and the Midlands, it is also starkly headlined with a critical assessment of how some of the options and the benefits of these were assessed. The report states that,
“A thorough reassessment of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances”.
What is the Integrated Rail Plan?
On the back of the Oakervee review and following a final submission from the National Infrastructure Commission, a new Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North was announced in November 2021. It outlines how to develop and deliver HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Rail Hub, and major Network Rail Projects.
It was presented to Parliament by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who pledged the investment would deliver faster and better journeys to more people across the North and the Midlands.
The views of the Transport for the North (TfN) Board, as one voice for the North, fed into the Integrated Rail Plan. The evidence reflected the ambition and vision of the North for the national rail network.
This work showed the vast capacity and journey time benefits that could be realised, alongside other investment in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan, which is in the process of being refreshed.
The Sub-National Transport Body Midlands Connect also provided evidence from the Midlands region.
With such a strong cross-party call for a review by many in regional political circles and by the committee, the new Prime Minister and their departments will undoubtedly have some tough decisions to make at a time where the North is questioning some of the levelling up policies that have been rolled out.
Just yesterday, a widely circulated report by IPPR North suggested that the gap in public spending between London and the North has doubled.
This coincided with a coordinated newspaper campaign in the region warning the Conservative leadership candidates against turning their back on the North. Eyes are also firmly on what comes next for the promised £100m study to bring HS2 trains to Leeds, with the West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin describing it as being “left in limbo”.
However, while some wider regional connectivity has been scaled back, there have also been very welcome commitments to the TransPennine Route Upgrade, with spending trebled to £9bn to deliver more comprehensive East – West electrification between Manchester and York.
Despite the large investments needed to replace our Victorian infrastructure, it is clear that there is still huge support for rail spending in turbulent times.
With both Conservative leadership candidates pledging commitments to spur on new economic growth and with the ongoing need to tackle climate change, the North’s and Midlands’ rail plans could be a good place to start.
If you want to talk to us about how we can help with your infrastructure communications, then please get in contact with James Jordan.
With the Conservative leadership election underway, we chart the candidates’ experience, supporters and comments on development and infrastructure.
Check out our analysis here:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Given the level of scepticism and misgivings about such infrastructure, our priority was to build trust and earn respect from stakeholders and local communities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.