Summary Linear Infrastructure Planning Panel Meeting Note Meeting #2,10th May 2023
How can new tools/approaches to linear infrastructure planning best support direct engagement between communities/citizens, developers/utilities and decision makers?
1. What does the changing policy/regulatory context mean for engagement in linear infrastructure planning and the development of new tools in this area?
Overview by the Chair
The panel’s focus is at the intersection of 3 sets of issues; spatial planning policy and regulation; infrastructure, technical systems planning and climate policy and regulation; and new technology policy and regulatory frameworks. This complex backdrop is also shaped by devolution and global policy and regulation. There has been a significant amount of policy and regulatory activity in this area in recent months. The implications of this changing landscape for the development of new techniques to support engagement include:
The direction of travel for major infrastructure is getting clearer, but implementation issues remain.
Complexity and the pace of change poses opportunities and challenges for new techniques.
Making stakeholder engagement meaningful requires significant further work:
Everyone agrees on the need for early engagement, but what does it mean, particularly around the new Critical National Priority for offshore wind?
Lack of clarity in terms of how the equalities aspects of engagement are being addressed; and
How do we ensure we bring together social, environmental and economic views?
Issues and gaps around digitisation, digitalisation and AI remain:
Publications are light on collection/digitalisation of non-environmental data;
Supporting non-statutory consultees with digital skills and capacity and non-digital opportunities needs further thought; and
AI - weak regulation and lack of legal backstop for redress could erode trust.
Margaret Read, Director of Policy at the National Infrastructure Commission
The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) planning study for England was commissioned by the Chancellor and published in April. It looks at the number of nationally significant infrastructure projects that will be required for net zero and climate resilience, as well as the cost of delay associated with these projects.
The recommendations fall into three categories: better governance, environmental management, and community benefit. They include updating national policy statements on a regular basis (particularly for water, energy, and national network infrastructure), improving the text of these policy statements, and providing communities with an earlier sight of what infrastructure projects are coming their way through linking to sector spatial planning, creating a central unit to hold government departments and others to account, and ensuring that developers and statutory consultees engage appropriately with each other.
On the environmental management front, the recommendations include sharing data on a data platform that everybody can access (so don’t keep collecting the same info and to help communities to provide citizen science data), creating a library of mitigations focused on priority sectors, and being explicit about the historic environment as well as the natural environment. Finally, the recommendation on community benefit involves offering community benefits for infrastructure that doesn't naturally provide local benefits, creating a national menu, and funding the cost of this through the regulatory settlement.
Other points explored following questions by panel members:
Green and grey infrastructure - how can we link green and grey infrastructure (e.g. in multi-functional corridors) and make planning as spatial as possible? Because we are always working on a worst-case scenario with both infrastructure and environmental constraints, we could be losing some opportunities for extra capacity in the system from an infrastructure perspective and losing opportunities to really assess our mitigation work.
Cost of delay - a number of things were taken into account in the study: the cost of maintaining a project team, generation constraint costs, missing capacity auctions and other opportunities developers might miss, the cost of capital implications, the cost to the supply chain etc.
Compulsory community benefits - the NIC felt this was required from a safeguarding perspective to avoid a race to the bottom and make sure that communities were treated fairly around the country.
Central unit to hold others to account - it needs to report either to the prime minister or to the Chancellor as they have the power to make sure that things happen. That unit will be making sure that the national policy statements are updated and in line with NIC’s recommendations, if the government accepts them. It would also troubleshoot.
2. What is important for a good engagement process in linear infrastructure planning?
Chair’s scene setting: the literature and research for the Panel indicates that good engagement in this area should include:
A fair and transparent process that covers the most material issues.
An inclusive and user-friendly process that enables people who are not digitally connected or may have additional needs to engage.
Honest conversations and communication.
A flexible and dynamic process that responds to changes in people's knowledge, expectations, and science around climate change.
A process that is responsive to community inputs to make it meaningful and shows the impacts of the engagement.
Sufficient resources and support are necessary for effective engagement
Alan Farquhar, SEPA - perspective
Good engagement is transparent, involves a variety of people, not only those with time on their hands, is flexible in terms of format (online, on site), takes into account local activities (consultation days do not clash with other local events), is more inclusive, more interactive and is seen as a co-creation exercise rather than as a lecture or a tick-the-box task.
Engagement when done properly could be expected to save time for project development. Listening, understanding and giving early access to good information and data (e.g. pre-records) are all elements that can make the experience much more constructive. Facts and technologies are important but also need to recognise that this can be emotional.
Rosie Pearson, Community Planning Alliance - perspective
The current system (at the bottom of the ladder) is passive and non-participatory. Communities and stakeholders are often presented with a done deal and the discussion immediately becomes contentious. This makes the process much slower as stakeholders get trapped into a litigious system and it leads to bad outcomes.
The top of the ladder is where we need to be. It’s a process that empowers co-creation, collaboration, and participation in decision-making. Using nudge / behavioural techniques and persuasion (e.g. social validation, reciprocity, consistency etc) could potentially help make this shift.
“A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224.
Tools will not make a difference if people are presented with a done deal from the beginning. The pros and cons of each alternative need to be set out so that people can actually understand what the implications are of each one, and Optioneer is a good example of that. Developers also need to use credible approaches for analysis such as the Treasury’s Green Book that sets out all the tools for project appraisal, socioeconomic analysis and natural capital analysis.
In terms of accessibility of the consultation, the digital world is crucial. Events need to be accessible and the data shared should be easy to interrogate (e.g. as in Magic Maps) and analyse. Tools such as Commonplace with interactive maps are very good community engagement systems. And stakeholders need to have enough time to engage, ideally 12 weeks for a complex consultation.
People who run consultations need to be reminded that these are recognised by law (Gunning Principles) and they should be done when a proposal is still at a formative stage. Good consultation done with an open mind from the beginning and giving people the information they need will lead to much better outcomes and faster infrastructure delivery than the current system allows.
Other points explored by the Panel in the following discussion and subsequent feedback:
Impact of engagement - Do we have statistics on how good engagement can help save time in project delivery? We may not have statistics on whether good consultation accelerates the process but we know that if you get it wrong it can delay things. Breaching the Gunning Principles is the open door to a successful challenge. It would be interesting to translate the results of consultations into capital costs. What would cost more? Using a particular approach supported by the community (e.g. T pylons) or a 2 year delay in the process due to judicial review with all associated costs? If we all believe that meaningful engagement is the precursor to a better process , why isn’t it more widespread? Can providing data on the impact of engagement help bridge that gap?
Early engagement - It’s crucial to engage people as early as possible, and to not be afraid to engage with people as groups/communities rather than just individuals.
Inclusive engagement - pay people for their time and identify key community champions that can relay messages, get more people involved etc.
Openness - open source tools and platforms can help community engagement. Planning tools are currently designed primarily for developers; there is an opportunity to design them for communities. Who pays for the development of such tools needs to be addressed. Open data (so that the assumptions/processes can be more easily interrogated), can also be important.
3. Where can new tools and approaches add the greatest value to support engagement in the linear infrastructure planning process?
Overview of the issues by the Chair
‘New’ innovative approaches can mean different things to different people: adoption of existing good practices and basic digitalisation; incremental changes within existing systems, processes and policy and regulatory frameworks - largely demand responsive; and transformative change which reconfigures processes, helping to reshape policy and regulatory frameworks in the process - proactive.
When considering where new tools and approaches might have the greatest impact in terms of supporting engagement, it can be helpful to look through three lenses:
The different layers and geographies of the planning process - ranging from using new tools in: the development of policy/regulatory frameworks; technical systems planning; and engagement on specific schemes.
Activities and functions- looking at how engagement can support: iterative design, collaboration, co-development and co-creation of data sets; sharing and integrating information, and tracking change; and direct stakeholder engagement on specific projects.
Quick wins - This could be leveraging tools already used in other contexts (e.g. in Local Development Plans) into the infrastructure space or taking relevant learnings from international good practices.
Breakout groups - themes raised
The role of new technologies - new tools should be used to support the wider planning process, but are not the sole solution. However, we might have to rethink the process itself to unlock all the benefits of technology. Technology shouldn’t be just a bolt-on to the existing process. It can be used to share information in different ways and at different stages of the engagement process to unlock opportunities. New tools should be explained in layman's terms. Standards for how new tools are used should be established. Visualisation tools need to ensure honesty to prevent misuse by developers.
What information is important? - New tools should show what is possible and provide people with necessary data and information to support this. They can also help shape narratives as spatial planning is ‘where things get real for people.’ Need to demonstrate the scale and benefits of projects and talk about the cumulative impact in planning and projects. Communities and individuals lack information to understand the scale of change needed. This creates tension points and disagreements when projects are implemented. Importance of discussing overlaps between local and regional pictures and spatial strategies. The regional picture is important for large scale habitat management.
Digitalisation - As far as possible, engagement stages should be rethought as a native digital process, whilst also retaining routes for views that are not digitally expressed to be included. Rather than the digital aspect shadowing paper-based processes, the digital process should be the thing itself - although there were some differences of views on the panel on this. People need access to documents in different ways. Data collection does not necessarily have to be high tech.
Data - data is crucial to inform tools and should be sorted out first, with the need for a common data catalogue. People need to be able to find the data they need, should have a reasonable expectation that they can access it, it should be of usable quality etc. Struggles with integrating data should be addressed for consistency across communities. Lack of consistency nationally leads to developers having to work harder to engage stakeholders. Using combined environmental data and trying new approaches could be helpful, even if this comes with some risk. Ofgem's meta-data work was seen as helpful. The National Farmers Union (NFU) was given as an example of using data on carbon and natural capital.
Community engagement - need for more community input from the beginning and throughout the planning and development process, particularly around the location and size of potential projects. Engagement needs to be interactive and real-time. Need to consider whether new tools can also help with engagement post construction to ‘bed the new infrastructure in.’
The impacts of consultation - need to understand and demonstrate the impact of engagement activities, both from the developer side (i.e. did our engagement efforts make the process quicker and cheaper?) and from the community side (i.e. how did our participation change the project?). Need to understand how new engagement tools can help both explore options and alternatives and bring in-puts together to support decision making.
Developing a more coherent process - the current process often feels disjointed, with different aspects of development requiring separate engagement activities. More visual techniques can help manage the complexity, such as a non-linear approach or a clickable mapping tool. There is a need for better coordination and alignment across different planning processes and timelines, to avoid situations where planning documents become outdated before they are even implemented.
Making connections between disparate sources of information - tools such as Logseq and Obsidian may have the potential to make non-linear connections between the wide variety of community, environmental and other concerns and views that are likely to feature in linear infrastructure planning issues.
Reflecting the Covid experience with Zoom etc, there are benefits to short webinars particularly when dealing with developers. It could enable quick Q&As to get a sense of what is being proposed. It’s also a way to collaborate online and help communities that are digitally enabled to share information more efficiently between each individual rather than the one to many sort of approach.
Use of tools to facilitate discussions in a useful and efficient way
Moving from an informative engagement process to a participatory one which lets people ‘see the change’ and what is and isn’t malleable.
Learn from the Sustrans community engagement guide and the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Future Energy Landscape Guidance which has been developed to put local communities at the heart of planning renewable energy development and community energy.
4. What can be done to change the planning environment to support the development, integration and embedding of new tools and approaches for engagement in linear infrastructure planning?
Introduction by the Chair
This session considered what might need to change in the wider environment to facilitate the uptake of new tools and approaches to support engagement. Policy and regulatory change may be needed, but there is clearly already considerable complexity and work going on in this area. It may be a question of how to apply existing laws and processes, such as the Gunning Principles and the Treasury Green Book. The issue of skills and capacity is important, as local authorities, statutory consultees and community groups are under strong resource pressure. The culture in organisations may also need to be examined, as well as leadership and strategic narratives. There are also existing standards of good practice for engagement and digital technologies, such as the accountability stakeholder engagement standard, but their effectiveness is uncertain.
Phil Watson, Suffolk County Council - perspective
Rather than asking what in the planning environment needs to change, we need to ask whether we can quantify the political and social capital we have; this will help in the recognition that the current way of undertaking engagement spends political and social capital too fast. We haven’t got this to spend. New tools can support better engagement, but they should not be solely relied on to improve the quality of engagement between communities, decision makers, and infrastructure promoters. Promoters are pitching a series of related energy and water projects that are necessary to mitigate and adapt to climate change, which requires a different approach to infrastructure development than in the past. This is not BAU.
Need to move from the traditional informative engagement approach towards a more participative approach that combines both informative and participative engagement that allows for flexibility and change. This approach has been successful in urban development and in infrastructure projects in the global south.
Project design can be a medium for engagement, as it offers scope for dialogue at various levels and granularity and can be a rolling and dynamic conversation. This is opening up a new type of collaborative design which isn’t about fundamental engineering design or purely cosmetic changes but co-developing projects with the community and considering both their needs and the developer's needs.
Breakout groups - themes raised - a mix of soft and hard levers for change
Scale of change needed - not well understood publicly. Current engagements are much better at the level of individual projects because this is what people respond to. Context is needed for people to understand the scale of the challenge and the change that's coming - to ‘roll the pitch’ before people are asked to decide. Focusing on the impacts of infrastructure may help - how can new tools help here?
Land use strategies - The Land Use framework in England and Land Use strategy in Scotland are a way of thinking about spatial land use beyond what is under the purview of planning. The pilots for the Scottish Land Use strategy identified the importance of building on existing networks and relationships.
Resources, capacity and capability - People and skills are crucial to the success of the efforts to address climate change, but there is a shortage of capacity across all areas, including policy and planning and technical skills and capability. Resource availability is a big dependency for the planning system, and the question of whether the private sector is willing to share some costs needs to be addressed.
Demonstrating the value of new tools in this area - It's important to demonstrate that true community engagement is financially worthwhile, and the role of Optioneer and other tools in this area needs to be explored. The project promoter needs to be persuaded that adopting new tools that support engagement is beneficial for them. Data that shows it's effective and saves resources needs to be provided; further UK research may be needed in this area. Also need to consider who creates a recognition of value - the LIPP, the NIC, a.n.other organisation?
Uncertainty - It may be helpful to frame tools as a way of helping to increase project certainty. Uncertainty affects all stakeholders. Greater certainty can give: citizens more clarity on potential impacts; reduce risks for investors; enable developers to gear up the supply chain etc. How far can new tools support engagement which lessens uncertainty?
Regulatory requirements - Regulators require regulated industries to deliver projects at the lowest cost to consumers, which can create challenges for engagement and planning efforts, even if there is a common understanding and appetite for engagement among regulators.
Data and digital standards - there are no approved let alone mandated government data standards or templates for what digital data should look like, nor is there guidance on engagement, indicating the need for the development of common templates. There is nothing in the National Planning Policy Guidance on digital planning.
Community benefits schemes - there are differing views amongst panel members here. Some consider that these are irrelevant and inappropriate and consider that the discussion should primarily be around alternatives - and only then around compensation and not benefits. They have similar concerns around Critical National Priority Infrastructure, representing a rush to an end rather than doing things properly. Others thought that there were positive lessons from the onshore wind experience: payments into a common good fund may help communities accept infrastructure developments. Socialised benefits and compensating for local impacts can help communities accept infrastructure projects.
Culture change - The mindset of planning needs to shift from being done to people to being done with people. Developers are risk-averse and reluctant to adopt new tools and methods if they are seen as a significant break from traditional systems. Culture change is also needed within local authorities, which may only be achieved through facing tough projects and developing new skills internally. Early transparency and involving key local influencers can help people understand project impacts. National politicians need to support local politicians to enable change.
Simplification and language - identifying local themes and infrastructure needs can simplify project planning. The technical language used in discussing finance, carbon, technology, construction, and other topics may be inaccessible to non-technical audiences. There may be a need to develop context-specific and common language to help people understand. There may be scope for consolidating existing planning standards and regularly reviewing them to keep them up to date.
Pulling information together. Provide information all in one place for a given area. For example, at the moment, telecom plans don’t appear in basic datasets. Whilst it’s important that information for all infrastructure is brought together for planning purposes, there are some differences with telecoms infrastructure and that for energy and water (e.g. comms services provide direct enhanced benefits so can be seen as more attractive than energy and water developments and a lot of comms infrastructure has been built over the last few years compared to that in these other sectors).
Social pressure - in some cases, social pressure and crowd-funded legal campaigns have been effective in shifting perceptions and priorities (but legal cases can’t challenge policy and can only challenge the decisions that are made). A significant change may be necessary to raise awareness and shift perceptions, as seen in the ‘blue planet’ plastic moment. Climate assemblies have been successful in engaging people and communities around climate action plans, particularly in local areas, and serve as an example of good practice. Segmenting the population to better understand how to communicate with them in this area is important, and the ‘Britain Talks Climate’ work was flagged as a good example.
Good practice standards - such as the treasury green book and accounting principles, should be better communicated to communities. Case studies from the Global South and Norway can provide useful insights. Would there be value in developing a LIPP planning standard?
Project delays - are not inherent to the systems themselves and developers can also cause delay to the projects.
Sharon Darcy, Chair
Andy Manning, Energy networks and systems team leader, Citizens Advice
Rosie Pearson, Chairman Community Planning Alliance and Founder Pylons East Anglia
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
Sam Tickle, Senior Policy Manager, Ofgem
Margaret Read, Director of Policy at the National Infrastructure Commission
Dr Melissa Bedinger, University of Edinburgh
Dr Karen Barrass, Founder and Director, Climate Insights
Darren Hemsley, Head of Supporting Good Development, NatureScot
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
Karen Alford, Data and digital lead, Environment Agency; Harry Steele, Infrastructure Specialist, Royal Town Planning Institute; Alistair Wilcox, Energy team, Consumer Scotland; Professor Andrew Lovett, University of East Anglia