Stakeholder engagement for water industry abstraction investigations

17th December 2015

Rob Hinks from Cascade consulting explores how to undertake robust stakeholder engagement in exploring the impact of water industry abstraction licences.

NEP investigation

Thames Water Utilities commissioned Cascade to undertake the lower Thames operating agreement (LTOA) abstraction investigation after the Environment Agency raised concerns that the existing operating agreement was causing the lower River Thames to be overabstracted and environmentally unsustainable during low flows. It was the largest NEP investigation undertaken for the fifth asset management plan period (AMP5) and was included by the agency in its final national environment programme for the 2009 periodic review (PR09).

Similar to an environmental impact assessment (EIA), the LTOA abstraction investigation included scoping and assessment phases, supported by an extensive stakeholder engagement programme.

Two-tiered stakeholder engagement

The LTOA abstraction investigation incorporated stakeholder engagement from the outset, initially setting up a technical steering group (TSG) consisting of the Environment Agency, Thames Water and Cascade's panel of technical experts to provide strategic direction to the five-year investigation particularly during scoping and data review. The TSG met fortnightly during the early stages of the project to review progress, discuss issues and maintain the strategic direction of the investigation which covered 11 separate environmental assessment topics.

Towards the end of the data review phase, the TSG set out proposed recommendations for the full assessment of the impact of the abstraction operating licence upon the lower River Thames and upper Thames tideway, which included the inception of the LTOA stakeholder forum.

A review was undertaken of all stakeholders who might have had an interest in the investigation's future analysis, findings and recommendations, with invitations sent to all potentially interested parties. The stakeholder forum was then formed, consisting of 30 interested parties, ranging from other water companies to local angling groups.

The key focus of the forum was to review and discuss the approach and outputs of the investigation at all key junctures. Meetings were held to review and discuss terms of reference, strategic priorities, baseline monitoring scope; approach to analysis, preliminary findings and likely outcomes; interim results, determining significance and potential mitigation measures; full findings, impacts that required mitigation and mitigation measures; mitigation option assessment findings, recommendations and review of stakeholder engagement format.

Importantly, meetings were scheduled when draft methodologies or outputs were available but before they were finalised, to allow scope for stakeholder input to be incorporated. Documents were sent to members of the forum ahead of meetings to allow stakeholders to digest the information so that discussions during meetings were informed.

Lessons learnt

The inclusive nature of the stakeholder engagement used allowed for meaningful contribution to be made throughout the investigation, which gave stakeholders ownership.

Establishing a balanced forum provided the basis a productive environment for contribution, engendering all stakeholders to actively participate rather than just the most vocal.

Stakeholders had different needs from the same investigation, which could only be understood through early and continuous consultation.


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