The value of good engagement in delivering Ireland’s transport infrastructure

4 min read

Ireland’s revised National Development Plan (NDP) will play a fundamental role in building a strengthened framework for integrating the Government’s ambitious decarbonisation plans into all areas of State-funded infrastructure, all while serving as an enabler for long-term economic growth.

Out for publication later this year, the revised NDP, with a recently approved budget of €165 billion, will reprioritise Ireland’s infrastructure needs and reassess investment planning on housing, health, climate action and transport.  

While the Government’s consideration of a Covid-19 stimulus response and option assessments for fast-tracked delivery of major infrastructure is welcomed, the issue of securing broad public support for major schemes remains challenging.  

So, with Ireland set to see major infrastructure projects coming through the pipeline to support its future requirements and Covid-19 recovery plans, Marc Lamphiere, Mace’s consultancy lead in Ireland, explains why communities must stand at the core of major transport infrastructure planning and delivery.  

Communities and transport schemes

Transport schemes can be amongst the most challenging to get local communities on board with. 

Their linear nature means that there can be a perceived lack of short or even long-term benefit for local communities and construction can be disruptive, as we saw with LUAS and the Dublin Port Tunnel.

Therefore, it is essential that we think about how communities will be impacted when planning a project and its delivery strategy. 

In contrast, transport hubs, which are developed as destinations in their own right, offer tangible economic gains through commercialisation and long-term employment opportunities. For example, mass transit to north Dublin on the proposed Dublin Metro, will unlock significant residential and commercial zones, supporting not just travel to and from the city, but also relieving housing pressures, while improving Dublin’s “liveability”.      

So, how can we provide the right support to communities living along the routes of new metro, rail, or road schemes? We know from experience that we need to take them on a journey; this means engaging as early as possible and maintaining a clear and consistent flow of communications throughout the project lifecycle. 

Early engagement can lead to better outcomes

Crucially, by engaging early, we will understand the concerns and aspirations of local people and community groups. This will give invaluable insight into social, environmental and historical considerations and, subsequently, help to shape desired project outcomes.  

By taking their views into account at the outset, and then continuing in that vein throughout planning and development, we will find solutions together, build trust and foster community buy-in. 

An essential component of this approach is creating an inclusive and accessible communications and engagement strategy. This requires different modes of communication to suit different demographic preferences, including digital content, local media and public information events, as well as engagement with a diverse cross-section of the community, ranging from local residents, to councillors and interest groups. 

We must truly take the community on the journey and offer everyone the chance to join in the success. Failure to do so, as we have often seen, will result in heightened local opposition, which has the potential to derail project timelines. 

Communications should highlight the wider scheme benefits. By doing this, along with addressing legitimate concerns and mistruths, you will help local people see how the scheme can become an asset. 

And this isn’t only once the scheme is completed; there will be plenty of occasions to drive opportunities for the community during construction, including through inherent economic, job and skills benefit. What’s more, by listening to local people, clients will be able to tailor their approach to meet local needs and maximise social value.

Communicating the value of your project 

There will of course always be groups of people who remain opposed to a scheme. A common issue on metro transport projects for example is when part of the route is above ground and part is tunnelled. 

To mitigate perceived disruptions associated with above ground works, truthful engagement that doesn’t shy away from reality and the cost implications associated with tunnelling should be coupled with a commitment to exploring realistic options to manage impacts. 

Even though it’s unlikely you will achieve universal buy-in, by building trust early on and creating a reputation as an open and honest project team, you will find these conversations more productive, with solutions easier to come by. In turn, this will reduce project opposition and minimise risk to programme timeline and budget.      

While local communities must remain at the forefront of a considerate and outcome driven approach, transport schemes inevitably have a wider customer base and it is important to think about these people too. Whether it’s commuters, businesses, tourists, or the economic regions, the views of these stakeholders need to be captured to establish the desired outcomes and to create a scheme that maximises socioeconomic value. 

Unpicking the multitude of stakeholder needs and aspirations isn’t easy. By building a team of dedicated professionals whose job is to openly engage the community, build relationships and secure buy-in from the outset, you will not only do the morally right thing, you will also create an environment that minimises resistance to your plans and supports on time and to budget delivery.