Early, ongoing and inclusive stakeholder engagement is no longer a choice but a necessity to ensure the development of future large-scale infrastructure in Ireland, from planning consent to construction completion, writes April Mangan

Why communicate?

The public is today having a far greater influence on project development than ever before. This is evidenced by the increasing number of judicial reviews of planning decisions and the number of expert commissions set up to review projects.

The reality is that early, ongoing and inclusive stakeholder engagement from the earliest stages of the project is no longer a choice but a necessity to ensure the development of future large-scale infrastructure in Ireland, from planning consent to construction completion.

The principle of early public participation forms the basis for best practice in stakeholder engagement and project communications internationally, consistent with the principles enshrined in the Aarhus Convention.

Ireland signed the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (more commonly referred to as the Aarhus Convention) on June 25, 1998, and therefore is legally bound by the convention.

Right of public to participate in decision-making in environmental matters

The Aarhus Convention, which was subsequently ratified by Ireland in June 2012, establishes the right of the public to participate in decision-making in environmental matters. These include planning matters and other environmental licensing decisions, such as foreshore licences, waste licences and Integrated Pollution Prevention Control licences.

Public participation in decision making as part of the Aarhus Convention has been implemented in the EU by Directive 2003/35/EV on public participation. Several pieces of legislation have been used to transpose the Public Participation Directive into Irish law, including the integration of its requirements into Irish planning law and into legislation governing other environmental consents.

The practical implication of the existing statutory provisions, as set out below, and imminent transposition of Directive 2014/52/EU, the 2014 amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) directive, is that project developers must fully identify and assess environmental issues, which may include public concerns, as part of their application for consent.

Developing, progressing and applying a stakeholder engagement strategy from the outset of a project is one of the most effective ways to ensure that all issues that arise during the decision making consultation and subsequent construction have been identified and addressed as part of the project development.

Existing statutory provisions for public consultation

Strategic Infrastructure Development Act
A/ An Bord Pleanála (ABP) can, during the course of a pre-application consultation for Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID), require a prospective applicant to give notice to the public or to carry out consultations with the public in advance of an application being submitted;
B/ ABP can also attach conditions with respect to community gain with respect to SID.

Planning and Development Acts (2000–2016)
The Planning and Development Acts (2000–2016) make specific provision for public consultation during the decision making process when the developer is seeking development consent.

The EIA Directive requires member states of the EU to carry out assessments of the environmental impact of certain public and private projects before they are allowed to go ahead. The directive is implemented in Ireland primarily through the Planning and Development Acts, the Planning and Development Regulations 2001-2015 and the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1989.

Some of the changes in the 2014 EIA Directive amendment, which member states were required to transpose into law by May 16, 2017, include the following:
• A screening determination may be requested by the developer and the competent authority must make a determination if requested and make its determination and the reasons for the determination available to the public;
• When an EIA is required, the developer must prepare an EIA report (EIAR);
• The scope of the EIA has been broadened to cover new factors such as biodiversity and land; ‘human beings’ has been replaced with ‘Population and human health’; ‘climate change’ should be considered when considering ‘climate’; and the vulnerability of the project to risk of major accidents and/or disasters should also be considered where relevant;
• A description is required of ‘reasonable alternatives’ studied by the developer relevant to the project and its specific characteristics and an indication of the main reasons for selecting the option chosen;
• If projects do entail significant adverse effects on the environment, developers will be obliged to do the necessary to avoid, prevent or reduce and, if possible, offset such effects, the monitoring of such effects must be specified in the decision;
• A requirement that notification of a development consent application and information on that application and associated EIAR must be made available electronically to the public;
• The grounds for development consent decisions must be clear and more transparent for the public, with justification of the final decisions provided by the public authorities to the public and prescribed bodies. This must include specifying how the results of public consultations and environmental information were taken into consideration in reaching the final decision.

The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (DHPCLG) is in the process of drafting the required amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 as amended and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001-2015 to provide for the transposition of Directive 2014/52/EU. The DHPCLG has issued a circular to competent authorities with respect to the implementation of Directive 2014/52/EU.

Likely to increase public participation

The requirement that information on screening determinations and development consent applications must be made available electronically is likely to increase public participation, due to information being more readily accessible.

With the requirement for consenting authorities to justify final decisions, where necessary, the consenting authority may seek supplementary information from the developer, directly relevant to reaching the reasoned conclusion on the significant effects of the project.

The consideration and managed implementation of a stakeholder engagement strategy from the earliest stages of project development will:
1.) Provide for understanding of the impact of the project on stakeholders and the early identification of issues in order to ensure that these are duly considered in the development of the project. Providing this information to the consenting authority, will facilitate their decision making process and mitigate against the risk of unforeseen issues being raised as part of the assessment and public consultation during decision making;

2.) Promote and foster collaboration and feedback from stakeholders through the building of better relationships within the community and external stakeholders in order to facilitate a two-way exchange of information. This will build consensus and support for a project while at the same time mitigating the risk of conflict;

3.) Ensure that the process of engagement is transparent, inclusive and collaborative, adding to the robustness of the application for consent; in the case of Strategic Infrastructure Development, having a detailed engagement strategy that identifies the affected public, outlines clear opportunities and channels for stakeholders to input into and influence the project development, will allow the developer to plan and manage the engagement rather than having this mandated by ABP during pre-application consultation.

Project communications strategy

It is our experience that setting out a considered project-specific communications strategy from the earliest stages of project development will establish a framework to deliver consistent information about your project. This proactive, two-way, open and honest approach to stakeholder engagement will ensure effective ongoing stakeholder engagement between you, your project team and your stakeholders.

The Corrib onshore gas pipeline project is an excellent example of the effectiveness of a comprehensive public consultation strategy. The Corrib gas field was discovered in 1996 by Enterprise Oil, appraised in 1998 and later acquired in 2002 by Shell E&P Ireland Ltd. (SEPIL).

Delivering the onshore pipeline element was the subject of significant controversy following an escalation of opposition to the development in 2005.

RPS was appointed to the project team in 2007 and recognised, together with SEPIL management, the need for renewed positive engagement with the local community and stakeholders. A detailed project communications strategy was developed and a comprehensive public consultation process commenced.

Questions were answered, fears addressed and the community included

A local project office and information service was established, questions were answered, fears were addressed and the community were included, involved and consulted at each step of the new process, from route corridor selection stage to the final route. This approach led to the successful approval and subsequent construction of the onshore pipeline.

This collaborative approach builds understanding with stakeholders about what you are trying to achieve, and within the project team about the concerns of stakeholders, leading to solutions that address and resolve these issues being part of the project development.

Effective stakeholder engagement from the earliest stages of project development is the most prudent and effective way of learning about issues that are important to the people who will have to live with the development.

People will talk about your project; it is up to the developer of the project whether or not to be part of that conversation. Being part of the conversation is the most effective way to manage the risk of unknown issues derailing your project at consenting stage, or worse at construction stage.

Author: April Mangan BE MEngSc CEng H.Dip (PR), is an associate with RPS and leads the project communications activity in the Cork and Munster area. She has more than 20 years of engineering and communications experience in the water, energy and construction sectors both nationally and abroad, with a particular focus on the development of major infrastructure projects. She has broad experience of managing communications and stakeholder engagement activity on large scale developments and plays a leading role in RPS in the management of stakeholder information on these projects. mailto:April.Mangan@rpsgroup.com

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/aproj1-1024x683.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/aproj1-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanCivilCorrib,project management,Shell
Why communicate? The public is today having a far greater influence on project development than ever before. This is evidenced by the increasing number of judicial reviews of planning decisions and the number of expert commissions set up to review projects. The reality is that early, ongoing and inclusive stakeholder engagement...