It’s quite logical that in most major infrastructure projects there’s a clear benefit to the community. Upgraded roads and rail lines facilitate smoother commuting. Utility upgrades result in fewer outages and better service delivery – in theory. Expanded rail networks ease congestion and delays. Yet it seems getting to that point where the community actually experiences the benefit sometimes just takes too long. There are delays, increases in costs and suddenly people aren’t as convinced that it’s a worthwhile project after all.
This has been especially true for major rail projects such as Crossrail and HS2, where overspending and delays have resulted in the projects coming under constant criticism, to the point that HS2 is now under threat of never seeing completion.
In other infrastructure projects such as the Tideway Tunnel, a number of press releases have highlighted areas where community recreation parks are going to be created at key points along the Thames, once construction has been completed. Of course communities will benefit far more from the actual tunnel project and the overhaul of the sewer system, but most of that is underground, and unseen. The parkways and recreation spaces will be a physical reminder of what the project has brought to the community.
There’s an old sales rhetoric that says you don’t sell a product, you sell the benefits it gives to the person buying it. And perhaps this is the point that main contractors have been missing on major infrastructure projects. Because to them the community benefit is obvious, not much is said about it. And then when there is community opposition because the project is delayed or not going according to plan, they wonder what the fuss is about.
It’s simple, when that happens it’s because communities and decision makers are doubting the benefit. They can’t see it or experience it, because the project is being delayed, but what they do see and hear about is escalating costs and problems – it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. In their minds the project has switched to becoming a liability. So can anything be done about this?
Community engagement at a greater level is a good start, as well as clear and regular communications that focus not on the details of the project, but rather the benefits to the community. It’s for them, it’s about them, focus on that.