Corporate Member, Diligenta, kindly hosted this event at the Friends life Centre, North Bristol. A good turnout of 55 members attended this event which looked at the challenges of managing a major local project, the high tension connection between the new Hinkley Point C Power Station and the National Grid at Avonmouth.
We had apologies from one of our speakers tonight, Peter Bryant, but were very pleased that Ken Murray agreed to provide the presentation on his own. We also welcomed Ivan Stone, who supported Ken with the Q&A. Ken explained that National Grid was formed in 1990 with the privatisation of the Electricity Industry.
National Grid is responsible for operating the high tension power lines of 275 to 400KV linking power stations with local power distributers who operate the 132KV and lower lines to our homes. The future energy challenge has three main thrusts: sustainability, including target of 15% renewable and an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050; affordability for the consumer; and security of supply. This has led to the initiation of a number of transmission projects around the country, with Hinkley C being the highest profile.
Ken explained the staged process National Grid use for initiating a project up to the planning application. This was driven by legislation and the 2008 Planning Act, which required the public to be consulted for major infrastructure projects. This had started in 2009 with Strategic Options (Feasibility), and after 4 years of public consultation the project is almost ready for planning application in early 2014.
The consultation has been a major effort, starting in 2009 with 40 public events which raised a lot of emotive issues, including fear of health issues and damage to property prices, from the communities along the proposed route. Despite best efforts the consultation was perceived to be telling and not listening, and National Grid was seen to be very defensive. The project team had to stop and listen, to try to understand what was happening and why.
This reflection period resulted in lessons being identified and 4 key actions being taken:
- An independent assessment of the costs of undergrounding cables ( which provided definitive costs in 2012 to refute some of the wilder claims);
- a review of National Grids undergrounding policy, working with stakeholder groups, to take better account of local issues;
- a pylon design competition, which selected a Tee design;
- and more effective stakeholder engagement, to engage core stakeholders early to listen and take account of concerns before maturing plans too far.
The latter also includes more effective communications with a social media approach. Ken highlighted the key lessons from the project which are being applied to the other projects, including Richborough in Kent which is just starting.
Things to DO include identify and work closely with key stakeholders, engage stakeholders early, regularly and imaginatively, listen to concerns and be prepared to adapt your plans, manage expectations, what can and cannot be influenced and why that is the case, develop concise and consistent messages.
DONT underestimate the task of consultation, dont be afraid of opposition, welcome criticism which allows you to understand issues and concerns, dont assume it is impossible, National Grid managed to turn the situation around in North Somerset for the Hinkley C connection and communities are now engaging. Ken reflected that the consultation process for Hinkley was probably 18 months longer than it could have been.
The new Planning Law had only just been enacted and there were no Government Policy Statements available when the project started and so there was a steep learning curve. Lessons have been learned and will be applied for future projects, including the need to invest in stakeholder management and communications. It is expensive, but is seen as a key risk management strategy. The evening concluded with a really good question and answer session covering both technical and project management questions.
You can find the presentation slides from this event here: http://www.hinkleyconnection.co.uk/news-detail.aspx?newsID=30