Cadent is carrying out essential gas mains replacement work across London, replacing ageing metal gas pipes with new plastic ones. Our role is to work closely with Cadent and their contractors to deliver a strong communications strategy, ensuring all affected communities and stakeholders know the benefits and critical nature of the works.
Jimmy Coles, Account Director, was delighted to join the wider RSK team in attendance at the World Water Tech Innovation summit held recently in central London. Whilst there were many achievements to cheer over the last year, particularly around emerging innovative technologies, the overriding consensus of the two day conference was the need for the sector to go further and faster when it comes to water infrastructure.
The conference brought together the key players across government, water companies, the supply chain, regulators and NGOs. What was clear in abundance was the desire for partners across the sector to work together to ensure that we rise to the challenge and build a cleaner, more resilient water sector for the UK.
Three key challenges were identified which will need to be addressed. That was to improve the quality of our existing water infrastructure and waste water management, reduce the risks of flooding and leakages, and most crucially to deliver infrastructure to build resiliency and keep pace with population increase and rising demand for water.
These challenges will require partnership working and strategic thinking – a starting point for which should be for government, water companies and regulators agreeing on the long-term pipeline of infrastructure work, mapping these out and securing the funding for getting these projects off the ground. The National Infrastructure Commission envisions that the sector will need to invest £20billion over the next thirty years across England and Wales to keep pace with growing demand. What’s more, is that this will most likely require an increase in consumer water bills in order to raise the finances required to deliver these projects.
Which brings us on to the other key aspect of delivering this much needed infrastructure – bringing the consumer/communities on the journey with us. If there is to be a rise in water bills for the consumer, there will need to be a significant upturn in the quality of the infrastructure that underpins this, and an understanding amongst communities as to why it is needed.
Copper Consultancy’s recent study in to the public attitudes towards water infrastructure found that 55 per cent of the public did not fully understand how our water is collected, stored and treated. Despite this, there is a clear appetite from the public for new infrastructure to be delivered, with 66 per cent of those polled suggesting new infrastructure is required, especially if it means cleaner and more affordable water.
It will therefore be crucial to ensure that when these projects come forward, water companies and developers clearly explain the benefits to the communities and engage with them early on in the process, to ensure that the projects are delivered with community buy-in and understanding.
For more information or to talk to us about Copper’s work in the water sector, please contact Jimmy Coles at Jimmy.firstname.lastname@example.org
This year a number of the challenges which have long been facing the water sector have reached boiling point. After a year of negative press attention focused on storm overflows, hosepipe bans, bosses’ bonuses and leaking pipes, both water companies and Ofwat are under increased public and political scrutiny.
This wave of coverage has been gaining momentum since the summer. Where previously the water industry had struggled to captivate public attention, customers and other stakeholders are increasingly seeing the industry in papers, alongside worrying about the effect it has on their pockets.
All this comes at a time when public trust in the ability to deliver new water infrastructure is needed more than ever.
It may be reassuring then that these concerns have resulted in calls for action. Recent research undertaken by Copper Consultancy found that 66% of the public thinks new infrastructure is needed and 40% think it’s needed urgently. This readiness, combined with an interest in direct effects to the water coming out of our taps, creates an opportunity to inform. It’s well established that a lack of understanding on a topic can act as a barrier to engagement. As we enter 2023, what’s needed is public education, alongside technical solutions and possible regulatory reforms, if we are to successfully address these challenges.
Pressure from the public and the media has inevitably been reinforced politically, with Labour and the Lib Dems having sought to put clear blue water between themselves and the current Conservative administration. The Lib Dems have called for banning bonuses until leaky pipes are repaired, while shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, has accused Coffey’s first term as Defra minister a ‘monumental sewage spillage.’
However, the public and political prioritisation of issues with the boldest optics risks short-term wins leading to little recognition of the long-term challenges facing the industry. Improvements to distribution networks, such as new reservoirs, decarbonising water treatment, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change and a growing population will take time to deliver and mean local communities will need to be ready for change.
The relationship between water companies – as developers of new infrastructure – and the public is complex. Local communities are their customers, as well as being planning stakeholders, voters and the ultimate end users of physical infrastructure projects in their area. There is no one single story to be told by the water sector. Communicating the need for new projects and technologies will require different channels and entry points. But beyond the news cycle and politicking, it appears that the public are ready for change and still willing to listen.
Our 2022 research, Readiness and reassurance: A study of public attitudes to water infrastructure, can be found here, for more information contact Andew.Weaver@copperconsultancy.com.
After one of the warmest and driest summers on record, hosepipe bans announced in parts of the country and questions over wastewater discharges, the water industry is firmly in the public eye.
This report sets out what the public think about water infrastructure and makes recommendations to industry about how we can best communicate the solutions that will keep the taps flowing.
Read the report here.
Why the water sector now needs to raise its profile; explaining the paradox of drought and flooding coexisting in the UK; how can the regulator, supply chain and water companies prepare the public for new projects.
Copper chaired an interview with Graham Dalton (Non-Executive Director, Scottish Water), Scott Aitken (Managing Director, Binnies) and Affie Panayiotou (WRc) to discuss how we can help prepare the water sector for the wave of new infrastructure the UK needs.
For the last few decades, the industry has been leading on many successful maintenance, efficiency and upgrade programmes, as well as delivering London’s new super sewer. Industry has been making sure the system works. When we all turn on the taps in our homes, factories and farms the water we all take for granted is there, to a high standard with no questions asked. When you flush the toilet or take a shower, you don’t need to think about what happens next.
But, to deal with population changes, deal with climate adaptation and help reach net zero, new projects are needed.
If industry is to deliver the right projects, and to deliver those to time and budget, we need to earn the trust of our stakeholders, politicians, media and communities for each and every project. We need to take the public with us and make no assumptions that because our projects are needed, we already have a societal licence to operate.
Water is safe, when you turn the tap on drinking water flows and when you flush the loo the drains work – so why do people need to know more than that?
The panellists discussed the idea that, historically, there has been no major benefit to raising the water sector’s profile. Television adverts across Scotland are good examples of where consumer behaviours are nudged to stop flushing wet wipes and plastics, but this is focused on operational issues.
So why does that need to change?
In order to build new, successful projects – reservoirs, waste water plants, water reuse projects, pipelines, renewable energy projects – promoters will need to involve stakeholders, community groups, residents and the public in shaping them. It is the right thing to do. But also, without this, we run the risk that the political reaction is that projects are happening ‘to people’, not ‘for them’, making consent and construction more costly and challenging.
What do people hear now?
Today, the industry mainly deals with an apathetic customer, apart from when there are issues. Focus groups show that people still refer to ‘The Water Board’. There has been little compulsion for change.
Copper’s own research, soon to be published, shows that there is limited knowledge about the water sector amongst the public. There is also a conflicting narrative in the UK – drought and floods coexisted in the UK over the summer. Confusion reigns and to be able to build relationships with communities, we need to earn trust.
We need to get communities involved in our solutions
To deliver benefits created by water infrastructure investment, we need smart engagement strategies which involve audiences – not just tell them what’s happening. To create social value, one needs to be able to hold constructive conversations.
But to secure the licence to hold this conversation, we need to be very clear about what problems we are solving. Describing the infrastructure and its impacts will only serve to educate those motivated to listen.
In building support for projects, identify the common benefits with key stakeholders, the red lines you won’t cross and an acceptance of key issues. This ‘stakeholder handshake’ gives one the opportunity to go back to basics on tough times and celebrate successes when there is the opportunity.
Capital investment will find it challenging to be a success if we don’t build a case, brand and reputation to show how projects are part of the answer to ensuring water can be relied on without a second thought.
Collaboration is key. It not just one organisation’s job to tell the story to communities. The regulator has a role in incentivising the right behaviours. Water companies’ programmes show a confidence in the UK marker. The supply chain has an opportunity to bring innovation and show how infrastructure can be so much more than pipes and concrete. Together we can create new public spaces, modern facilities, jobs as well as a system with a smaller environmental footprint.
The work poses potential disruption to those living in the community and local businesses. With the risk of negative community reaction and opposition, we’re tasked with clearly articulating how Cadent is committed to delivering gas mains replacement works across London, particularly in high profile areas, in the safest and fastest way possible to local communities. While Cadent is making sure the customer experience of gas works is as non-disruptive as possible, it remains vital that the economic and community benefits of the gas mains replacement programme are promoted.
In granting Cadent permission to undertake the work, Transport for London and local authorities in multiple London boroughs asked for a significant commitment to stakeholder engagement.
Our targeted strategic approach concentrates on articulating the essential nature of these gas mains replacement works and developing mutual understanding and tolerance for the work amongst communities across London. We continue to explain the consideration given to residents and businesses in the planning of works and efforts to keep disruption to a minimum, while emphasising the long-term benefits for the capital. We have also implemented processes to protect Cadent’s reputation and minimise adverse reactions.
We created and maintain a robust communications narrative around the project’s community and safety considerations and are working with Cadent and contractor teams to ensure they live these values. Our team is continually producing promotional materials to explain the needs for the works and translate complex engineering information into concise explanations to generate understanding and acceptance from the public.
Public exhibitions, community liaison working group meetings and briefings relating to key developments for local MPs, councils, schools, businesses and the wider public are integral to our engagement strategy. This is underpinned by providing regular stakeholder updates through email and letters to mitigate risk of project delays and sustained stakeholder opposition.
To mitigate the risk of project delays, negative media coverage or sustained stakeholder opposition, we respond to stakeholder feedback, using the expertise and specialist information provided by Cadent project teams working across London.
This project is ongoing. So far, we have successfully helped Cadent articulate the importance of investing in London’s gas mains replacement programme to millions of stakeholders. Clear, concise, relevant and timely information and materials are being delivered every day. We have improved political, business and community stakeholder relationships with Cadent, as well as communication channels between Cadent and the city’s other key service providers.