Fresh eyes

Stakeholder engagement crucial for energy plans

Stakeholder engagment crucial for energy plans
Paul Tustin Client Director PR & Comms Headshot

Written by Paul Tustin,
PR & Communications Director at Freshfield

The race is truly on for new energy sources, as the drilling for shale gas in Blackpool demonstrates.

However, with these projects come huge challenges, not least how the developers communicate with local communities through the rigorous planning process.

Indeed, the Localism Bill – which should be passed through Parliament by the end of this year – will fundamentally decentralise control of planning developments from central and regional government to local authorities and local neighbourhoods.

In Blackpool, local campaigners are rallying to oppose the plans by American company Cuadrilla Resources that has been drilling a shale gas test-well more than 9,000ft deep on land near Kirkham and is due to start extracting gas soon.

This aptly demonstrates how the principles of engaging with local communities should not be under-estimated, both the content and the channels used. Many people now want their information available online, some still want to read a piece of literature. Many simply want to meet someone and hear it from the horse’s mouth. Getting this strategy right first time is key to a successful passage through community engagement and ultimately approval.

Under new legislation, there will be an even greater emphasis on consulting and engaging with local communities. Developers will not be able to simply pay ‘lip service’ to consultation, but will be required to show how a scheme has been amended to reflect comments expressed. Developers will also need to ‘directly engage’ with community forums.

The formula for communicating with local communities will need to address specific circumstances on a tailored, case-by-case basis.

Stakeholder engagement programmes, which are designed around specific needs, provide a focus for communications activity addressing these issues.

The sooner in the process these considerations are addressed and embedded into a programme of engagement the better. After all, much of this is also good common sense is it not? Surely, we all want to be asked what we think about major developments happening on our own doorstep?

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