UK View on Political Strategies for Linear Land Use Projects

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By Nick Keable, Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

In the UK, we have a history of poor delivery on linear projects, for all the reasons Mike Saint outlined last month.

In recent years, the opposition to this type of development has been further increased by the requirement upon applicants in the UK for widespread public consultation on major projects.  The last Government (Labour) was particularly irritated by this opposition and in fact created a new planning process for such proposals, as well as other large-scale infrastructure, called the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).  This process essentially excluded politicians from the decision-making cycle, thus concentrating the arguments for and against on a technical case alone.

The new Government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition) is changing this process slightly so that the Government minister responsible for overseeing the UK’s nationalised planning system – the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – after a recommendation from this technical-centric process, has the final decision.

The approach in the UK has thus been very related to the general requirement for public consultation.  Usually, this involves pre and post application exhibitions, focus groups, newsletters, websites etc which all feed into a ‘Consultation Assessment’, which is included with the application at the time of submission and sometimes updated later during the course of the application.

Because of the very PR heavy approach used in the UK, most projects do not have clear, well thought through political strategies.  My focus would be:

1.       Careful political profiling of the Parliamentary constituencies, local authorities and local communities the linear project cuts through upfront.  In particular, with an eye on the various electoral timetables, looking for marginal Parliamentary constituencies, local authorities that swing and communities that will or are opposing the project where politicians will be most lobbied against the project.

2.       Forensic identification of ‘hot spots’ of likely or already formed opposition in advance of the application being made.

3.       Creation of support groups countering the localised opposition to present a more balanced picture to politicians whilst…

4.       …Forming an overarching support group to take part in the formal consultation on the application.

5.       Establishment of a media campaign to promote the project and rebut the arguments put forward by the protestors, many of which are often factually incorrect.

Nick Keable is vice president for UK operations for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone +44 207 592 7050

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