Summary Linear Infrastructure Planning Panel Meeting Note Meeting #1,10th March 2023
Updated: Jun 19
What do we want to get out of the panel?
As this was the first meeting, we began with a discussion of what each person wanted to get out of the panel. Attendees broadly agreed that linear infrastructure planning can often be seen as a process of ‘managed unhappiness,’ that there is scope for improvement and a pressing need for change. Issues raised in discussion fell into the following overarching categories:
Understanding how to work with stakeholders to respond to the national need for infrastructure in a faster and more acceptable way
How to get the right mixture of bottom up and top down approaches around what is considered when infrastructure is planned and delivered, ensuring the views of consumers, communities and expert groups are taken into account by decision makers.
How to enable speedier decision making without sacrificing the quality of decisions.
How to ensure we are all speaking a common language when it comes to planning, have an understanding of each others’ needs and have the right context specific narratives to enable change.
Understanding how new tools can help streamline and speed up the process
How to share and use data to drive decisions.
How to develop agile ethical approaches that can be replicated.
How new tools can help with Environmental Impact Assessments (and the shift to Environmental Outcomes Reports).
Why the panel has been established
The chair explained that the panel has been set up because of the need for new linear infrastructure to be built at an unprecedented pace. There are issues in the planning process that have existed for some time but with the increasing volume of projects coming down the line, the challenge of how fast some of this infrastructure is built is a growing issue.
The pressing need to build more infrastructure can butt up against the concerns of stakeholders who can see the planning process as a done deal. How you assess and balance different interests is another challenge. The panel discussed whether the focus should be on trade-offs and balancing issues or on how to deliver multiple benefits for different interests. It was agreed to return to this issue when the panel has some specific examples.
The chair noted that new tools and approaches to deliver a faster, more consensual way of getting infrastructure built can help but as with any new technologies and processes, these can also present risks as well as opportunities. The panel provides a constructive and safe space to help develop good practice in this area. Points raised in the subsequent discussion included:
In a linear development, communities in different places along the line may have different priorities.
Community benefits and community engagements are two different things. There is a need to engage with stakeholders early on so they understand WHY new infrastructure is going to be beneficial to them.
Need to ensure that the interests of local AND wider stakeholders are taken into account.
2. New tools and approaches
The planning process is stuck in the 20th century and is still largely document-based. Digitalisation can have a positive impact but it should aim to eliminate repeat data collection and qualification processes, ensure that everyone has access to the data available and that data sets are authoritative and usable.
Tools should come to support decision-making rather than make the decisions for us or take choices away from democratic actors.
3. Other points the panel should consider
Planning is a devolved matter. Most of the issues are common across the UK but the processes are not. The outcomes and findings of the panel should as far as possible be applicable to all parts of the UK which can learn from each other - and global good practice. Hypothetical case studies can help.
The panel should focus on quantitative outcomes especially when emotive aspects are involved.
Add Natural Capital and ecosystem services to the requirements that linear infrastructure needs to consider. This can help unlock multiple benefits. Making data about natural capital and existing environmental ‘assets’ available at scale can improve planning decisions earlier on.
Need to consider the mind sets, human resources and skills that are needed to achieve the acceleration of new infrastructure development. For example, building legal and local authority expertise in digital planning.
These points are reflected in the revised briefing note From ‘managed unhappiness’ to collaborative place-making: How new tools can support linear infrastructure planning.
Aims of the panel and desired impact
Attendees agreed to adopt the previously circulated draft terms of reference with the following minor amendments which have now been incorporated in the published version:
Recognising that there is never a perfect solution and approaches and practices need to be transferable to different places, aim for good practice rather than best practice which is an erroneous concept in complex systems.
Good practice formulation needs to include the consideration of alternatives.
Be mindful of not just people living in communities but also about economic opportunities.
The panel’s work needs to also consider how new tools can also support interactions with decision makers.
The panel completed the following word cloud exercise to explore what success might look like for the panel as a whole. This will be used to help to develop some suggested KPIs to discuss at the next panel meeting.
The panel’s draft theory of change was then discussed. The following suggested amendments have been incorporated in the published version:
Work with the grain: identify who are the people who are motivated and enthusiastic and form strong strategic alliances with them to keep up the momentum.
Keep horizon scanning to ensure stay abreast of developments in a rapidly changing policy landscape.
Panel work plan for next 12 months
The panel clearly needs to prioritise its work and ensure it focuses on areas that add value that others are not necessarily covering. Key themes raised in the break out group discussions included:
Priorities: The priority should be on how new tools can support community and stakeholder engagement, develop trust amongst communities, statutory consultees, planning authorities and developers, and be used in practice.The current system is a major obstacle to developers, regulators and communities alike and that needs to be addressed. Carry out a gap analysis of where the current challenges are, areas where new tools and digital approaches might help and opportunities not yet thought of that new tools could open up. Identify possible outcomes that the panel’s work could deliver against and work with local authorities etc to test against these. Consider how consultees and regulators recognise new tools. Ask what a better process might look like and how technology can help unlock this. Delineate between things that can be resolved with new technology and those that cannot and how new tools can facilitate early engagement.
On metrics, aim to quantify as much as possible but also recognise that some things are intangible and be explicit about these and any biases. Consider common data standards. On trust, need to have the people who engage with the planning process top-of-mind. They may not be receptive to new technology and most importantly the outcomes that the tool might be optimised for may not be the outcomes that they are most interested in. Consider how to balance the need for investment certainty with the need to be flexible in response to changing social and environmental needs and expectations; explain how infrastructure planning and development can and can’t flex.
What might be missing: The question of both legal and policy makers’ understanding of what changes might need to be made to the system to facilitate better infrastructure planning is quite an important issue. This may require cultural and regulatory change and need for more honest conversations. Could this be something the panel would also look at?
A digital by default approach can also risk marginalising people who are not equipped (e.g. by infrastructure, skills or experience) to deal easily with digital or indeed those who have ‘opted out’ of digital. Need to ensure the door is kept open to other avenues for engagement. Keep in mind the other stakeholders coming into play in the later stages of infrastructure development (e.g. the supply chain) and other providers of new tools and approaches.
How to develop good practice: It is crucial to get developers / utilities involved as early as possible in the work of the panel and form strategic alliances with them to ensure they are on board. Assess whether broadening the decision making funnel improves the quality of decisions at the end of the funnel. Need to list the dependencies for new tools to work (e.g. having the right skills in the right places). Consider examples of digital tools that have been demonstrated to work effectively. Use a number of hypothetical examples to understand how things presently work and could be improved and to shape the need for new tools.
Reflect on what the panel is doing differently: if there is a new approach we need to identify how we do it. Consider how Wales and Scotland interact with England and understand that there will not necessarily be a common outcome for all countries. Consider the disconnect in approaches between the marine and terrestrial environments. The planning process should be made accessible to stakeholders and techniques such as visualisations should be used. The decision-making process at the planning level should also be explained to them in detail (why are these decisions made?). Need to be transparent about what new tools can and can’t do.
The panel discussed it’s key stakeholders and made suggestions to add the following to the previously circulated list:
Academia, student and young professional bodies / networks
Trade bodies (tech UK)
Private sector investors
Supply chain eg Hitachi
Global Infrastructure Hub
UK Infrastructure Bank
It was agreed to include the caveat on all major printed outputs that ‘the views expressed are not necessarily representative of panel members. Where a notable difference of opinion has occurred, this is noted in the text.’
Channels for disseminating information were then discussed, with several members saying they used mastodon as well as / instead of twitter.
Sharon Darcy, Chair
Professor James Curran, Visiting Professor, University of Strathclyde
Andy Manning, Energy networks and systems team leader, Citizens Advice
Rosie Pearson, Chairman Community Planning Alliance and Founder Pylons East Anglia
Karen Alford, Data and digital lead, Environment Agency
Dr Sue Chadwick, Strategic and digital planning adviser, Pinsent Masons LLP
Diarmid Hearns, Scottish Environment Link and Head of public policy, National trust for Scotland
Alice Sharlot, Rural surveyor, National Farmers Union
Eric Brown, Executive adviser, Energy Systems Catapult
Dustin Benton, Policy Director, Green Alliance
Dr David Clubb, Partner Afallen LLP
Phil Watson, Strategic energy projects manager, Suffolk County Council
Harry Steele, Infrastructure Specialist, Royal Town Planning Institute
Alistair Wilcox, Energy team, Consumer Scotland
Dr Karen Barrass, Founder and Director, Climate Insights
Professor Andrew Lovett, University of East Anglia
Claire Stephenson, Senior conservation planner, RSPB Cymru
Alan Farquhar, Planning and contaminated land manager, SEPA
David Sigsworth, adviser, Continuum Industries
Dave Costello, EIA lead, Continuum Industries
Grzegorz Marecki, CEO, Continuum Industries
Charline de Dorlodot, Communications, Continuum Industries
Dr Melissa Bedinger, University of Edinburgh