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Positive Public Engagement and Safe Gasholder Dismantling at Stevenage and Luton by Wood plc

Shortlisted Brownfield Awards 2020 Category 3 - Best Public Participation and Engagement 

1. Introduction and Background

National Grid Property (NGP) owns a number of former gasworks sites, including a group of five in the East of England (Stevenage, Luton, Ipswich, Felixstowe and Lowestoft).   Each site contains redundant gas infrastructure including above ground gasholders; the presence of which are preventing the sites from being regenerated and brought back into beneficial use. 

Given their similar geographical location, NGP batched the dismantling of the gasholders at the five sites into a package, to be delivered by a single project team (NGP, Wood, Erith and Local Dialogue).  To date, works have been fully completed at two of the sites (Stevenage and Luton) with works ongoing at the remaining sites.  

The delivery of the dismantling works across these sites as a package has brought several efficiencies and benefits.  A stand out benefit of packaging the sites has been the continuity of the project team with respect to public and community engagement.  This submission focus on the extensive positive community participation works completed at Stevenage and Luton, however, also provides insight into current impacts and future plans for the project. 

2.  Public and Community Participation and Engagement
 

Ahead of the work to dismantle the gasholders on Norton Road in Stevenage and Dallow Road in Luton, the project team understood that stakeholder engagement was key to the project being a success.

The Stevenage site has commercial neighbours in close proximity, the team began forging relationships with these businesses through a series of face-to-face meetings and a door knocking exercise to ensure all neighbours were informed of the works and to minimise any disruption, noting that an adjacent company expressed concern pre-works given their screen manufacturing process was particularly sensitive to vibration and dust.  This exercise provided the team with information about the access requirements and working patterns of neighbours, and neighbour concerns regarding the impact of the works.  In turn, it  helped in the planning of key elements of the project (delivery times for plant and materials,  ways of working etc.) and the planning of further communication requirements, as necessary.  This included the creation of a WhatsApp and email group by NGP’s Community Relations Agency, Local Dialogue, so that regular, real-time communications could be issued to businesses and other stakeholders. 

The Luton site is bordered by a residential estate, and it was foreseeable that dismantling work could adversely affect our neighbours.  Before work started, a public engagement event was held in the Dallow Community Centre (adjacent to the site and close to the site’s nearest neighbours) to provide local residents and stakeholders with the opportunity to meet the project team, learn more about the project and discuss any concerns / queries about the upcoming works.

Formal project updates were also issued by letter drops for both the sites. These letters included details about the work taking place, estimated timescales for the key dismantling tasks being undertaken and contact details for the community relations team (email and freephone hotline number) should any further queries or concerns need to be raised. This communication mix created an excellent working relationship between the neighbouring businesses, residents and the project team during the project’s duration.   

Additionally, the project team saw the opportunity to extend stakeholder engagement to the wider community and as a result contacted organisations across Stevenage and Luton to arrange events and provide support for these organisations during the works. These included North Hertfordshire College, Stevenage Fire Brigade, Luton Fire Brigade and Lister Hospital (East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust).

The project team’s support for these organisations included:

  • A presentation delivered at North Hertfordshire College’s Stevenage site to over 60 plumbing and electrical students about the project.  We recognised that these students are the potential engineers of the future, and as such, geared the presentation towards the career paths taken by the team, and provision of careers advice to the students.

  • A site tour at Stevenage for the 60 plumbing and electrical students, to see a live dismantling works in action and put into context the skills they were learning away from sites.

  • A follow up site tour for further construction course students from North Hertfordshire College at the Luton site.

  • A site tour for members of Stevenage Fire Brigade’s Blue Watch to understand the work taking place and expose less experienced fireman to an exemplar industrial site where their intervention might be necessary – the Brigade commented that their routine experience was of domestic buildings, and welcomed the training opportunity at an industrial site. The tour included a question and answer session with various members of the project team and helped to forge long lasting links between National Grid and the Fire Brigade (the team is also liaising with Stevenage Fire Brigade regarding visits to other National Grid sites in the area).

  • A similar site tour for members of Luton’s Fire Brigade to understand the work taking place.

  • Donations to Lister Hospital children’s’ ward of more than 20 pumpkins, a range of decorative kits and other treats to celebrate Halloween and Christmas gift packages, delivered by Santa (Erith’s site manager) during the 2019 festive period.  We saw this as an opportunity to put something back into the community. 

 To show their appreciation, the  Health Play Specialist Team, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust sent a thank you letter to the project team; an extract is provided below:

Communication has continued with these organisations and the project team has maintained these working relationships along with communication with the local community. 

Positive feedback has been received from all organisations we engaged with, and no complaints have been received from the local community during the brownfield regeneration works completed at Stevenage and Luton.

The project team regularly met to discuss the engagement strategy, share ideas and review opportunities and this working relationship and the contractor and client’s openness to undertaking a number of activities helped to create a cohesive and successful communications campaign.

3. Considerate Constructor Scheme (CCS) Recognition

 

The Stevenage and Luton sites have scored very highly in the CCS site inspections, with both scoring 44/50, and as a result both sites have been recognised as a CCS sites of excellence.

4.  Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Future Plans

The implications of COVID-19, the UK government implemented lockdown and social distancing measures has resulted in the planned public and community engagement events for the Ipswich site being put on hold. Whist we are not currently able to complete the face-face planned engagement, the project team wanted to ensure the communities in which we are working know we are supporting them, to this end the project team have commissioned bespoke banners and bunting to show support to our NHS heroes.

The project team are developing further public participation ideas which can be implemented at the Felixstowe and Lowestoft sites which will be completed later in 2020.  The team are looking at changes to the engagement strategy given the impact of the global pandemic and are seeking ideas for digital and remote options, for example engagement with local schools to include targeting younger children regarding safety and staying away from construction sites via suitable online platforms as well as any further options the project can do to support the NHS and Key Workers in this difficult time.

The project team are committed to ensuring public and community participation and engagement continues as part of this package despite the impacts on the ongoing COVID crisis, and feel that this time more than ever local communities in which we work need and deserve our on-going and future support.

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