373: How to champion a local project
There are a number of issues facing any local project. It has to build the trust and support of local communities as well as decision-makers and there is often a role for central government too. But what are the key issues that local project champions should consider?
I recently spoke at the 16th Annual Light Rail Conference where I was asked to reflect on the challenges for the sector in a panel discussion entitled, ‘Reframing The Debate on Light Rail’. In the session I suggested that there were 10 issues that needed to be considered which I have recapped below, in no particular order:
- Stop future technology being the enemy of the present – there are challenges that need to be dealt with now and whilst a new technology may emerge in due course, always keep that in mind that action is often required urgently. Similarly, opponents will talk about the impact of Covid, particularly on cities. Whilst this will, of course, need to be considered, delays need to be avoided at all costs.
- Why is central government involved at all? This may be a slightly broader issue, but the long arm of Westminster and Whitehall extends to main projects and that is not just because ‘their’ money may be involved. Mayors, city regions, local authorities and others need to continue to push the devolution agenda.
- Global Britain – do not be afraid to embrace projects as a means for cities and regions sell themselves globally and to help attract inward investment. That can also be useful for the local community as well.
- Air quality and the environment – if we want an area to be a truly liveable and attractive place to live and work, then these issues need to be at the heart of any project and form part of an overall package.
- Cost – the simplistic approach says that there is no money available from central government, so we cannot afford to build local projects. If that view is taken, then government will focus only on London, ending up with returns of the type the Treasury want to see. This means that places beyond London need to think about local support.
- Private investment – larger projects know that private capital is required, but if the new Conservative Prime Minister is focused on tax cuts and lowering public spending then all ideas need to be considered, including local fundraising with the possibility of engaging the private sector. There is no doubt that local authorities have allocated their monies towards social care and other local services therefore there needs to be some creativity.
- Certainty of funding – again, this forms part of the devolution agenda however government needs to put long term funding solutions in place. The yearly TfL arrangements cannot help with planning. One of the reasons often cited for the failings in British Rail was not the management or the quality of the catering, but the lack of funding certainty. Governments of the day would forever raid the BR pot to pay for other commitments.
- Champions – there is always a need to have champions, especially local ones, for any project.
- Focus on the community – too often schemes, especially transport ones, reflect the optimal technical requirements rather than what works best for the communities that they serve.
- Sell the strengths – these can often be assumed by the technical teams drawing up the plans, but they are not always quite so obvious to stakeholders. Take for example light rail: many people will never have been on a tram, so their knowledge is limited. Never make assumptions.
All these points must be taken into consideration to complement effective local engagement and consultation. If a community isn’t part of the development, then they are highly unlikely to accept it. If the community is opposed, then political audiences too will be opposed.
All local projects need to consider these points from the very outset if they are to be successful.