Building Trust for the Shaldon Flood Risk Project – An Evaluation for Environment Agency

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This report by Lindsey Colbourne Associates, completed in mid 2009, explores the actual and potential benefit-cost of engagement[1], based on an evaluation of the pilot Building Trust with Communities – Working with Others (BTwC) approach used on the Shaldon (Devon) Flood Risk project between 2005 and 2009. This period covered the phases of the project from the need having been identified to PAR approval and submission of the planning application.

Invariably, the Environment Agency has some connection with stakeholders and communities on every project. BTwC is based on a more planned approach to engagement which encourages a shift from working practices based on a ‘Decide-Announce-Defend’ (DAD) relationship with the community towards practices which encourage more proactive engagement, based on the ‘Engage-Deliberate-Decide’ (EDD) model[2].

The report is based on Environment Agency documentation and interviews with staff, engineering consultants and members of the Shaldon and Ringmore Liaison Group. The headline conclusions, further expanded in the full report are:

1. The highest engagement benefit: cost ratio is not achieved by deciding whether to engage or not, but by making the right decision about how much to engage. This will depend on:

a)   Whether the work is responding to an established need, with the possibility of an accepted solution or not? The table below illustrates four very different scenarios:

Reactive situation
Well established history of flooding of the type(s) and extent being considered
Proactive situation Little or no awareness of the flood risk of the type(s) and extent being considered
Likely to be a solution (eg a flood defence scheme) that will solve the problem for everyone Light touch BTwC engagement may be enough (focused on getting details right, communicating the results) Full BTwC engagement likely to be necessary to build understanding of flood risk, to work up solutions and agree details
Unlikely to be a solution (eg a flood defence scheme) that will solve the problem for everyone Full BTwC engagement will be necessary to build understanding of the reasons for lack of solutions, deal with fairness issues, create and enable (a range of) adaptation measures Focused BTwC engagement on key stakeholders will be necessary to build understanding of the flood risk and lack of solutions, deal with fairness issues, create and enable (a range of) adaptation measures

b)   One obvious solution or a range of solutions? Where there is one ‘blindingly obvious’ way of reducing flood risk (such as maintaining or enhancing existing defences), engagement may be focused on getting the details of that solution right. For a range of solutions, the public will want greater engagement.

c)    Visually or physically intrusive or not? Any scheme likely to cut into a sea or river view, prevent access or change the character of a place will merit enhanced BTwC, involving the community as early as possible to ensure the best amenity, design and finish

d)   High or low impact of flooding? Shaldon has a comparatively high cost of annual flood damage and potential loss of life. Getting the scheme completed sooner rather than later is important. To minimise the objection and time risk, enhanced BTwC is recommended.


e)   Solo delivery or collaborative delivery? In some situations, the Environment Agency may be in a position to deliver flood risk reduction without the support, active involvement or ownership of the community and other organisations. The application of BTwC in these situations can be light touch. But in other situations, successful implementation may require key organisations to play a major role where BTwC can play a useful role in securing their buy-in.

In terms of the considerations above, Shaldon was high impact situation (flood damage and potential loss of life) and a large scale, proactive scheme, without one obvious solution. Many of the potential solutions were potentially visually and physically intrusive, and would require collaboration for delivery. The project costs were estimated at £8.529m.

Although figures relating to the total cost of pre-PAR work and total project costs have been secured for this report for Shaldon[3], insufficient figures relating to the cost of engagement have been recorded for comparator schemes such as Teignmouth, Lympstone, Ottery St Mary and Boscastle. The true benefit-cost of different amounts of BTwC will not be known until a more schemes are evaluated.

The report provides a benefit-cost framework to assist with future evaluations. A BTwC tool has also been developed by Lindsey Colbourne Associates for Making Space for Water SD6 and for a recent science research project (which is now embedded in the project appraisal processes of Streamlining and FCDPAG now FCRM-AG) to assist with identifying the situations which will require light touch application of BTwC, which will require the medium and which a more extensive application of BTwC[4]. The tool is included in the appendix to this report.

2. Critical to a high engagement benefit: cost ratio is doing engagement well, and doing it efficiently.

“Shaldon is definitely the right way of doing it, but we threw everything at it. We could get 80% of the benefit with 20% of the cost and knock one year off the duration”. Environment Agency staff

Capturing these efficiencies in future work requires:

ü  At a minimum, consistently bringing BTwC attitudes and style to interactions with communities and stakeholders. As Environment Agency staff said: “BTwC could just be a courteous way of dealing with people”.

ü  Developing BTwC skills, style and confidence amongst staff and consultants, and involving someone with the right level of skills from the start of the project will help to bring consistency of approach across the business.

ü  Building key planning and preparation parts of BTwC into Operational Instructions (OI)[5] procedures for teams (such as NEAS, ncpms) to reduce conflicts in internal guidance and requirements.

ü  Knowing when and how to use particular BTwC methods and techniques, especially when dealing with controversial, proactive, intrusive flood defence schemes (or conversely, where flood defence is being withdrawn).

ü  Applying the series of detailed lessons learned from Shaldon, whenever full or light touch BTwC is used in the future.

3. What next? The pilot work at Shaldon raises a strategic set of issues to be resolved:

ü  What policy is driving the work of the Environment Agency– best value vs. public acceptability and resilience?

ü  How to deal with changing data and requirements such as extreme tide levels, sea level rise, priority score, compensation, policies and funding? Trust cannot be built on a false scientific premise.

ü  Does engagement have a valuable role in scrutiny and accountability?

ü  How to avoid the temptation to use engagement as manipulation or ‘education in disguise’?

ü  How to know when a remit to act has been secured from the community, how to maintain that remit, what to expect as a scheme progresses and how to deal with objections?
The full report also outlines the process used at Shaldon, illustrating how the approach and methods used differs from the business as usual process.  The results of engagement and the results of piloting the BTwC approach at Shaldon are listed.

[1] The benefit-cost being assessed here is of the use of BTwC to secure public engagement in the design of a flood risk scheme. This is very different from the benefit-cost of the scheme itself in relation to public expenditure.

[2] For further information on the DAD to EDD approach, see Building Trust with Communities

[3] See section 4.1

[4] See Colbourne, L, 2008. Improving Social and Institutional Responses to flooding.

[5] Previously known as Agency Management Systems (AMS)

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