Consultation: Working with Communities

Response to Consultation Questions

  1. Do you agree with this approach of identifying communities? Do you have any other suggestions that we should consider?

The approach to defining communities should be iterative as described, since in the early stages the ultimate location of the GDF will be unknown and will only be determined following a process of investigation by the developer and the Community Partnership. A consequence of this is that the defined community will “shrink” over time as the siting process ‘homes in’ on a preferred site. Starting with a Search Area based on an initial proposal from the Interested Party(ies) and homing in to a smaller impacted area is entirely do-able. It will be important for subsequent public discussion that the Interested Party can explain the rationale for the initial area that they are proposing and are able to demonstrate the merits of their proposal.

I agree that impacts should be a consideration in the definition of the community and there are well-established methods that can be used to evaluate impacts as are routinely used in support of Environmental Impact Assessments, Traffic Assessments etc. Just for clarity, my interpretation of the text in para 4.17 is that we would not expect ‘A’ roads feeding the impacted community to be included within the defined community: this seems reasonable given that existing requirements as part of a future Environmental Statement will require the developer to consider traffic impacts and provide appropriate control and mitigation measures.

Para 4.12 proposes that the boundary of the initial Search Area will be defined by the relevant electoral ward boundaries applicable to the Interested Party’s area of interest. This is sensible: the para then adds “… and within which the impacts of site investigations will be felt”. I suggest that this text be deleted as it is (i) unnecessary and (ii) confusing, since the impacts will not be apparent until investigated during the later constructive engagement phase.  It should be recognised that the initial area of interest put forward and justified by the Interested Party(ies) could be based on some other non-Governmental structure such as an existing community network or for instance one of the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

  1. Do you agree with the approach of formative engagement? Do you support the use of a formative engagement team to carry out information gathering activities? Are there any other approaches that we should consider?

The objective should be to establish a Community Partnership and enter constructive engagement as quickly as possible. The role of formative engagement and the proposed formative engagement team is a pragmatic solution to help achieve this objective. A successful formative engagement team is one that can hand over the reins to a Community Partnership and wind itself up in the shortest time.

I agree that the principal local authority(ies) should be informed and invited to take part. I note that they may choose not to be involved and in which case should continue to be informed of progress. Text in Table 2 addresses one possible outcome; that the local authority is content for the formative engagement team to continue without their involvement. Although not explicit, another outcome is that the local authority (ies) does not (do not) support the establishment of the formative engagement team and on the consequences of this, the consultation is silent. If this is not to be an ongoing uncertainty I would recommend that this is clearly addressed. Experience from the 2012/13 MRWS siting process clearly demonstrated the problems that can arise if the different tiers of local government can ‘out-vote’ each other and the Working with Communities Initial Action (2014 White Paper) was designed to address this.

If the local authority (ies) chooses not to be involved at this stage, they should be kept informed of progress, but shouldn’t have additional powers over and above their existing powers (which are of course extensive) to frustrate a project that may eventually garner popular support. It should be remembered that these initial stages are intended to generate information that can support an informed debate about the benefits and detriments to the eventual host community, who should ultimately have final say through the Test of Public Support.

The formative engagement team as described will be set up and funded by the delivery body. I would suggest that the following is added to the text in para 4.29, “… is formed by the delivery body to work with the Interested Party and people within the proposed search area to …”.

  1. Do you agree with this approach to forming a Community Partnership? Are there other approaches that we should consider?

I generally agree with the proposals for the Community Partnership but have a wider concern regarding the role of local authorities that impinges on several of the questions, so I’ll address it here. The MRWS process halted in West Cumbria in 2013 following decisions made at Borough and County Council level. Both Copeland and Allerdale BCs agreed to move to MRWS stage 4, whilst Cumbria CC decided not, which essentially vetoed any further progress. The subsequent 2014 White Paper reflected on this experience and stated (para 7.9):

UK Government recognises that local representative bodies – including all levels of local government – will need to have a voice in this process. UK Government is currently of the view that no one tier of local government should be able to prevent the participation of other members of that community.

I fully support the approach envisaged by the White Paper to empower local communities and to enable them to establish a Community Partnership with the developer and for the community to be responsible for decisions around continued involvement. I fully support the need for local authorities to have a voice in the siting process but am concerned that the current consultation text goes beyond this and provides a de facto veto. If we are to avoid repeating history and replaying the unsuccessful experience from MRWS, then any approach that provides a veto, or effective veto, should be forthrightly rejected.

The consultation proposes that the size of the partnership should not be prescribed but suggests a working size of about 12. This seems to accord with my own experience of effective working by such groups. There is guidance given on the possible constituents of the Partnership (Table 3) but nothing about how the different interests should be balanced. For the sake of clarity, I would suggest the addition of a statement to the effect that that the Partnership membership should be balanced so that no one grouping (e.g. local authority, community members etc) has undue influence. I return to this particular point in my response to question 9 and the proposal in para 5.11 in particular.

  1. Do you agree with the approach to engaging people more widely in the community through a Community Stakeholder Forum? Are there other approaches we should consider?

I support this approach. No matter how effective the Community Partnership is at representing the views of the various local stakeholders there will still be a need for wider outreach and engagement with the public and a forum such as that proposed will have an important role to play.

The consultation focuses on the Community Stakeholder Forum as a means of enabling wider engagement through public meetings and with the establishment of working groups on different topics. These should be seen in the context of examples of the tools that could be employed: other tools such as social media, school workshops, workplace events should be encouraged to promote as wide engagement with the community as possible.

  1. Do you agree with the proposal for a Community Agreement and what it could potentially include?

I support this approach. My interpretation is that the Community Agreement should be drafted during the Formative Engagement phase, in parallel with development of plans for the Community Partnership. Obviously, the Agreement can only be finalised (and signed) once the Community Partnership has been established.

The Community Agreement will be a very important document and one whose influence will in some cases last for many decades. The current approach suggests that these documents will be drafted and agreed on a bilateral basis – this may not be the best approach. For these documents to be founded on best-practice principles and to generate trust and to be accepted within communities, consideration should be given to production of a high-level framework that is independently produced and can then be adapted by individual communities to meet their specific needs.

  1. Do you agree with the proposed approach to the way community investment funding would be provided? Are there alternatives that we should consider?

I agree that as a default, community investment funding should be managed and controlled by a body that is separate from the delivery body. It is not stated explicitly (that I could see) but there would appear to be two options: management by the Community Partnership or management by an existing community body (this option is highlighted). Either of these options would work so long as funding dispersement principles are agreed and made available up-front. Its not clear from the description if the Community Investment Panel (with membership from the Community Partnership and delivery body) would be applicable to both options: I think it should be.

I note and support the commitment given that the delivery body will fund advice and support community members in making applications for community investment funding.

The document reflects the 2014 White Paper commitment that Government will provide additional investment to the host community. This is additional to that provided by the delivery body and “will be significant”.  The level of detail provided is no better than that offered in the White Paper and if communities are to be attracted to take part in the siting process they might reasonably expect further information on this key part of the offer.    

On a point of detail, para 4.73 describes the role of the Community Agreement in demonstrating progress. I agree that the Agreement and the programme of activities will have a role, but the text could be read to suggest that these will themselves be sufficient. I can imagine that progress against the programme is one measure, other measures such as opinion polling and sentiment surveys within the community would also need to be brought to bear.

  1. Do you agree with the proposed process for the right of withdrawal? Do you have views on how else this could be decided? Are there alternatives that we should consider?

I agree that withdrawal from the process should require some form of endorsement from the community once Constructive Engagement has been achieved. I also agree that there should be a defined threshold to cross and that this should be set out in the Community Agreement. I agree that the policy should not attempt to prescribe the mechanism and that this should be for the Community Partnership to decide.

In my response to question 3, I noted that the constituents of the Community Partnership should have a degree of balance so that no one grouping has undue influence.  In this respect I would expect any decision by the Community Partnership to exercise the right of withdrawal to be the result of a balanced discussion and agreement that the defining threshold had been achieved. The prospect of a single member (e.g. local authority) carrying a motion based on their single vote (as suggested in para 5.11) runs contrary to the expectations as set out in the 2014 White Paper and would undermine confidence in the overall process.

  1. Do you agree with the approach to the test of public support? Do you agree that the Community Partnership should decide how and when the test of public support should be carried out? Do you have views on how else this could be decided? Are there more alternatives that we should consider?

The test of public support should be designed and carried out by the Community Partnership at a time of its choosing – which is likely to be towards the end of the site characterisation activities when the delivery body has some confidence in the technical suitability of the site. I agree that the test of public support should be sought from, and limited to, the Potential Host Community as this is by definition the impacted community.

If the Community Partnership has successfully progressed through Constructive Engagement and a period a site characterisation, I cannot see justification for a local authority preventing a test of public support. Having got to this stage and the Community Partnership being of the view that a GDF would be of net-benefit to the community, the local authority should let the democratic process of test of public support progress. The proposed policy should be very clear that this was the intent in the 2014 White Paper and continues to be the position.

This does not imply that the local authority does not have a platform for their views or does not have a role in the decision-making process. Their roles are already significant and defined by the statutory planning regime (Planning Act 2008).  The delivery body will need to demonstrate that they have consulted with local authorities (amongst others) before any application is made for development consent. The 2014 White Paper (para 6.6) recognises the separation between working with a community and the formal planning process.

  1. Do you feel that this process provides suitably defined roles for local authorities in the siting process? Are there alternatives we should consider?

As set out in my response to 3. above, I believe that the proposals as set out have the potential to repeat the problem of the earlier MRWS process that one tier of local government can in effect veto a proposal that is supported by other tiers. Of course, all tiers of local government should have a voice and have the opportunity for engagement: if they are in disagreement they need to be at the table seeking to improve/resolve issues, but they also must be prepared to let the community establish a Community Partnership and to explore how the GDF can be developed to the overall benefit of the community. The new policy should reflect the ambition of the 2014 White Paper and recognise the separation between the Community Partnership and the statutory planning process.

  1. Do you have any other views on the matters presented in this consultation?

No further issues.

Submitted to BEIS consultation website 12 April 2018