Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Improving our understanding of community engagement on infrastructure projects

Jenny Stafford - Principal Consultant

At Temple, we believe engaging early with stakeholders to identify local benefits reduces the cost of implementing infrastructure projects, sometimes quite significantly. Our approach is to involve communities in decision making and ensuring local benefit as far as possible (rather than simply informing or consulting on proposals).

We presented some of our thinking about this at a recent CIRIA event on community engagement on infrastructure projects. One of the tools we use is our Controversy-Local Benefit matrix for infrastructure projects, see below. The matrix provides a broad categorisation of projects by levels of controversy and local benefit and makes it easy to see why more controversial projects, either locally or nationally, and those bringing low levels of local benefit are challenging in terms of community engagement. Recognising this, finding ways to reduce impacts – sometimes through the process of considering different options – and increase local benefit (see graph below), helps move projects towards the top left quadrant i.e. those that are more straightforward to engage on.

 Controversy-Local Benefit Matrix. The position of example projects in the matrix reflects Temple’s views but the precise location of the projects in a quadrant or between quadrants is open to debate.

Good engagement can increase benefit and reduce controversy 

Another key message at our CIRIA event was the wide variety of reasons why engaging early adds value: early community engagement builds trust, eases the process overall and reduces costs. This front loading of engagement is the same principle as that adopted by the BREEAM Communities assessment process which demonstrates the importance of early engagement in informing design. It is less expensive to engage early with the costs of doing so increasing during the development process, particularly during the approval or consents stage when there may be legal costs to such engagement and less opportunity to make changes which reduce impacts or increase benefit. 

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) identifies a spectrum of participation or engagement ranging from informing and consulting with the public to involving, collaborating or empowering. Use of approaches and techniques further along the spectrum see greater levels of involvement and participation and, as a result, increasing levels of public impact and likely benefit.  At its simplest therefore, the IAP2 spectrum suggests that finding ways to better involve the community will be a more effective way of ensuring local benefit and gaining acceptance.  

A final key point about controversial projects is something that may surprise many technical specialists. It might be anticipated that it is important to share technical details when undertaking public consultation on controversial projects. However, what is most important is being able to relate to the views of individuals or empathising, gaining their trust and demonstrating commitment to listening to their views, according to work done by Vince Covello on risk communication. These factors are far more important than sharing their technical expertise about the project itself. In lower concern situations – or less controversial projects - sharing this technical expertise has a greater role to play, see below. 

Temple Group is hosting the IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation course in London, 1-5 December. Click here to find out more and register.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Wild Development - A talk by Jon Riley of The Ecology Consultancy

Jonathan Say, Consultant

On the 15th of October 2014 Jon Riley, of Temple’s sister company The Ecology Consultancy (TEC), gave an interesting and informative briefing on wildlife and development.

The talk began by looking at construction impacts on wildlife. TEC have significant experience in this area through their work on projects like the construction of the A120 in Essex, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the East London Line (Underground and Overground). Jon shared his wealth of insights on issues such as direct habitat and species loss, fragmentation, disturbance, introduction of invasive species and landscape design and management.

Jon covered the major legislation relating to ecological assessment, an area that TEC has extensive expertise in, given their involvement as expert witness for projects like the Local Plans for the London Borough of Lewisham and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. This section was peppered with interesting examples of protected sites and species related to the many projects Jon has been involved with. I was saddened to hear of the decline of the UK and European protected white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) in the south east due to invasive species introduction and associated diseases (crayfish plague). It highlighted the great importance of using ecological experts to limit the impact of major developments, as the removal of a single species can have huge impacts to wider ecosystems. The example of the decline of bumble bees in the UK, due to impacts such as changes in agricultural technique, shows the potential implications to human life of a single species loss

The presentation illustrated both UK and European legislation, the interrelation with the UK planning system and covered the specialist area of protected species licencing and ecological surveying which is a discipline in which TEC are greatly involved. For example, on HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Impact Assessment (London to West Midlands) TEC have undertaken over 600 surveys to date this year!

Jon highlighted the potential cost of getting it wrong. A successful prosecution for a wildlife offence may lead to a £5000 fine or six months’ imprisonment per offence, which in the case of a bat roost is clearly a substantial impact to any project. This again highlights the importance for developers to utilise competent ecological consultants like TEC in order to avoid these impacts.

Finally, Jon covered the fascinating area of creative ecology or habitat enhancement and how projects can have positive ecological benefit if competent ecologists are engaged to plan out these potential habitats. This covered green roofs, green walls, integrated nesting sites, vertical beaches (very relevant to enhancement along the Thames wall), green bridges, grassland creation and much more. TEC, together with our associated company the Green Roof Consultancy (GRC), are leaders in the field of habitat creation. Notable examples include Canary Wharf’s green roof strategy and Barclays Headquarters in London. GRC were the authors of the Greater London Authority’s ‘Living Roofs and Walls – the technical report to support the new London plan’.

Clearly TEC are leaders in the field of ecological assessment, and together with Temple and the Green Roof Consultancy, we can offer a range of high-level expertise in environmental and ecological consultancy, planning advice and habitat creation relevant to wildlife and development.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Proportionate EIA – a Temple approach

Tom Smeeton - Principal Consultant/ Peter George - Technical Director

Research by IEMA has indicated that the main text of many environmental statements run to more than 350 pages, while those relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects are often nearer double that figure. Furthermore, EIA can often be seen as a regulatory hurdle required for development consent rather than a vehicle to achieve truly sustainable design. So how can proportionality be achieved at key stages of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and what are the perceived barriers to delivering an effective, concise and proportionate EIA?

In our recently published article in the environmentalist, Pete George and I seek to answer some of these questions. Some of the key themes are summarised below.
Many EIA environmental statements (ESs) have become large, information repositories and feedback from stakeholders reveals that this can lead to a perception of impenetrability which can often make them inaccessible to the reader. Reasons for the ever-expanding ESs seem to vary but can include:

  • the fear of challenge or the risk of litigation;
  • a temptation to scope in topics with little consideration of whether the anticipated impacts are significant;
  • legal teams insisting an expanded scope;
  • a normal or traditional approach scoping in the environmental topics normally associated with a development rather than the specifics of what being proposed;
  • inflexible guidance documents and a lack of professional judgement; and
  • failing to recognise that scoping is a dynamic process which should be continually reviewed.

As a result many ESs become less effective at communicating a clear, concise message to inform interested stakeholders and decision makers. It is accepted that the non-technical summary (NTS) should be the first point of contact for many stakeholders (technical or otherwise) but even NTSs can become a listing exercise of significant effects with little rationale given for the conclusion.

Effective scoping has to underpin a proportionate approach to EIA, whilst also increasing efficiency and reducing the potential for unnecessary work and creating value for our clients.

So what about proportionality in the application of design and mitigation? The design and mitigation response should also be proportionate and based on the scale of anticipated impact to effectively mitigate, without entailing excessive costs. In our experience an iterative approach using emerging results of the assessment backed up with experienced professional judgement has delivered demonstrable value and efficiencies whilst also achieving successful consent and a more robust sustainable design for our clients.

The traditional model is to undertake EIA at key points in the design – for example, when the design is sufficiently developed to understand the effects of the development on the environment. The design needs to be sufficiently “fixed” for its impact to be assessed effectively. However, this approach can result in the mitigation being “shoe-horned” into an advanced and inflexible design.

We have found a more integrated approach, which embeds the environment professional in the design team is more beneficial. This approach can truly integrate the initial environmental findings and the approach to mitigation into the design. In this way, environmental assessment is not viewed as a process that merely reports back at the end of the process, rather, EIA is considered as a fully integrated and iterative process that is interdependent with the evolution of the design.

The EIA coordinator has a central role in the development cycle and they must be able to communicate effectively with stakeholders, the design and wider project teams. This relationship is crucial to avoid and reduce the project’s effects on the environment, whilst also ensuring that the mitigation response is proportionate and integrated into the design.

The benefits of having an embedded EIA coordinator in the core development project team, include:

  • better communication within the project team of environmental impacts;
  • better understanding of the key issues relating to the environment;
  • design management – a thorough understanding of the environmental implications of design decisions;
  • design advice – an ability to influence the design and advise on emerging results of the assessment; and
  • impartiality – an ability to challenge conventional thinking or status quo design assumptions.

We have found this approach has delivered demonstrable value to our clients whilst also gaining consent and successful outcomes for their developments.

The implementation of the new EIA Directive has a requirement for the EIA manager or coordinator to be an “appropriate person”. Whilst it is uncertain how this will be interpreted or defined, Temple’s EIA coordinators are experienced professionals with relevant professional qualifications – such as registered EIA practitioners, MIEMA and Chartered Environmentalists.  Temple is also one of the founding members of the IEMA Quality Mark registration. As such, Temple is well-placed to respond effectively to the changes associated with the implementation of the new Directive whilst also delivering consistently successful outcomes for our clients.

The full article can be found on the following link can be found here. N.B. please note you will need to be an IEMA member with a username and password to access the article. Alternatively, you can take a free trial.

For further information on how Temple can successfully deliver EIA in relation to your development opportunities please contact the below:-
Tom Smeeton – Principal EIA Consultant  02073943700
Peter George – Technical Director 02073943700

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Understanding people helps deliver technology benefits

Martin Gibson - Head of Operations

As those of you who have known me for a while will know, I have a phrase “it’s the soft stuff that’s hard”. It is quite easy to make a case for using technology. You can find the costs and calculate the payback time to make a credible case. When it comes to changing behaviour, however, things get a lot trickier. It is hard to calculate the costs of changing behaviour or the outcomes from doing so. It is also a long and complex process to change people’s behaviour.

In the light of these difficulties, we in business often simply opt for technology solutions and ignore the behavioural side of things. A recent study shows that the same seems to be true for the academic research community. Having an interest in all things sustainable, my eye was caught by the article ‘Energy studies need social science’ by Benjamin K. Sovacool (Nature 13 July 2014, Vol 511, p529).

The article points out that to secure a low-carbon future, we need to alter both technologies and behaviour. However, energy research literature focusses predominantly on technological solutions. Most articles (85%) focus on energy production systems. Behaviour and energy demand was investigated in less than 3% of the 4,444 articles covered in the research.

Sovacool makes a strong argument that the focus on technology means that engineers and economists are ignoring behavioural aspects of energy use and therefore miscasting decision-making and action. He believes that researchers in the energy field need to learn from health and agriculture by bringing together social and physical scientists. He notes four worrisome trends in energy research:

  • Undervaluation of the influence of the social dimension;
  • A bias towards science, engineering and economics over social sciences and humanities;
  • A lack of interdisciplinary collaboration; and
  • Under-representation of female and minority group authors.

These findings have strong parallels in the business community. Many business people operate in silos: people keep things within their department when it would be better to work with others across or outside the company. Although there are some notable exceptions to this and a trend towards more collaborative working, silos still dominate. It will take some time before the benefits of collaboration that should arise from using approaches such as those in BS 11000 become commonplace.

For those of us working towards more sustainable business, the message is clear: don’t get stuck in silos. There is a need to make sure that technological solutions are balanced with social and behaviours ones. Technology will open up opportunities but we need to understand human behaviour to deliver them. If we are to deliver on sustainability, we need to consider the complex interactions between technology and the people that use and benefit from it.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

How to expect the unexpected: Ciria’s ‘Infrastructure risk and resilience to natural hazards’ event

Genevieve Oller - Marketing Executive

On 18 September I attended Ciria’s infrastructure risk and resilience to natural hazards event, chaired by John Beckford (UCL) and including a host of speakers from the Cabinet Office, TfL, University of Oxford, John Dora Consulting and contributions to the panel discussion from Arup (who also hosted the event).

Tom Sutton of the Cabinet Office did a fantastic job of setting the scene on how the government currently thinks about and assesses risk to infrastructure. Whilst the event’s focus was on the risk of natural hazards, Tom reminded the audience that risk also extends to terrorism and an ageing population, amongst other factors. He made the point that if it’s happened somewhere once, it can be predicted (i.e. the data will exist) and someone somewhere will have already done the research. John Dora, another speaker at the event and a Temple associate, made the point that around 10 years ago research found that manhole covers in London were going to explode out of the ground, on account of historic under ground cabling and an increase in rainfall. Fast-forward a decade and the newspapers are full of stories about random manhole explosions, but how random were they?

Helen Woolston of TfL gave a highly engaging talk about their current asset management programme, which extends to 2031. She brought home the complexity of the job at hand, with many assets coming from the Victorian period. It was a reminder that in practice, whilst the research is out there to plan for future asset management, is it possible to implement it within such an extensive scheme?

John Dora of John Dora consulting’s solution for resilience of the UK’s infrastructure was ‘no regrets’ construction, therefore having resilience as a major aspiration from step one. This is something that is true of Temple’s working processes, through our work that embeds sustainability from the earliest possible stage of planning, leading to high CEEQUAL and BREEAM scores. John dug a little deeper by stating that one of the key things to obtaining this was education. He mentioned that only a very small number of engineering courses offer interdependency thinking as a module.

The event posed and answered serious questions about resilience of infrastructure to impending natural and man-made risks. It was interesting to find that things that seem so certain can have predictability to them if the research finds it’s way to the right people, but how does that happen? John stated that organisations such as Ciria and Engineering the Future could be the drivers of change. In the panel discussion several speakers mentioned the need for government to take notice, and that it is often once stories have hit the press that they do so (the case with the manhole covers). However, before there is a drastic change to how our media operates, perhaps it sits with individuals to properly circulate the key research papers. Temple is an advocate of sharing information; we hope that we can be a small part of this proposed solution.

Ciria’s next event is run in conjunction with Temple and is on the theme of community engagement, find further details here.