Planning and project delivery

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Once you have decided on a project concept, there are lots of ways to ensure the delivery of your vision enables as much engagement with the community as possible. Anything from where your project will be located, to who you develop partnerships with and what policies and strategies guide your activities will influence the scope for citizen engagement and the likelihood of local people getting involved.

You may also want to consider how to consult the community when planning your project delivery.

Click on the ideas below for practical suggestions and detailed case studies.

Finding a site

Depending on the type of project you are taking forward, you may require a site for a renewable energy installation, growing food, or to provide a retail outlet or distribution centre. Tapping into local knowledge within your group, talking to members of the community and utilising word of mouth can all help you to identify potential sites - you may be surprised to find that other people have been considering sites for a similar project! Studying maps and exploring the local area can also reveal possible sites, and you can find out who owns sites identified from the Land Registry. Scoping exercises may aid this process.

The characteristics of the site you choose will influence the level of awareness of your project and the scope for people to get involved. Points to consider include:

Accessibility. How accessible your site is by public transport, on foot, by bike or for those with limited mobility will affect who and how many people are able to visit the site in person. This will be of most significance to projects which involve selling a product or service onsite, or will be seeking volunteers to help there. Accessibility is also relevant if your project will involve large scale construction, such as for wind energy development – a site is no good if the parts won’t be able to get there! It can be worth getting advice on this from an access expert, as the need to create new access routes can add significant costs onto the project or make it infeasible.

Passing trade. Sites which a range of people pass regularly will offer more opportunities to engage people, meaning you won’t have to go out of your way quite so much to track down potential customers or supporters. Such sites may be located on or near a busy high street, main road or other local hubs of activity. For projects which involve selling a product or service on site, this is a particular benefit, as it means you are likely to receive greater passing trade and have more customers right on your doorstep, enhancing your economic viability. On the other hand, a prominent position can throw up difficulties for projects which are seeking planning permission – see the ‘feasibility’ points below.

Feasibility. A site needs to be feasible economically, technically and in terms of planning requirements. Many potential sites will be ruled out on financial grounds alone, and rent is likely to be a significant cost which you will have to budget for. If you can arrange to share premises with another organisation or can find a sympathetic landlord who supports the social objectives of your project, you may be able to get a better deal (see the ‘landlord’ points below). To be technically viable, for example to host a particular renewable energy technology, the site will need to have a suitable location, orientation and access to natural resources and grid connection. Surveys and tests may be necessary to assess this. When it comes to planning requirements, relevant factors to consider include proximity to residential areas and the likely impact in terms of noise, landscape and wildlife.

Suitable landlord. Finding a landlord who is on board with the project is crucial. You may be able to find a suitable landlord through word of mouth, community connections, advertising or approaching potential landlords directly. For large scale projects, such as wind energy development, you may have to approach several different landlords if more than one person’s land will be involved, for example to provide access for installation or maintenance. For more information on these considerations, see the Community-led Wind Power action pack.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative found attracting potential landlords the hardest part of delivering their community-owned solar PV project. To find a site, they drew up a target list of buildings they thought would have large, good-quality roofs. Using their local contacts and the mailing list, they also solicited from the public: did anyone know any roofs? At the same time they set to work on writing the lease agreement that would be signed between Brighton Energy Co-operative and the sites. This was a significant piece of work: a fifty-page legal document that would form the basis of the relationship between the two parties for twenty years. The group heard that a London solicitors – Reed Smith – allocated a percentage of their profits to pro bono work, and were successful in applying for their assistance. After intensive questioning of the team, Reed Smith wrote the lease agreement, framing their needs within legal terminology. They then began discussions with various organisations. It became increasingly obvious, however, that some organisations are better at making decisions than others. Those organisations with a community-minded focus proved the most amenable, but in total they contacted more than fifty building-owners. After eight months three had signed the lease, representing a conversion rate of one in every seventeen prospects. The three organisations included two churches and a local port. St George's Church in Kemptown was the first: the local vicar, Father Andrew, understood the pressing need for renewable energy, and appreciated the idea of involving the community in its rollout. The second – City Coast Church in Portslade – felt a similar way. Finally, Shoreham Port liked the idea too. As a trust Port, Shoreham has a responsibility that goes beyond fiduciary – it is also required to engage and benefit the local community when carrying out its activities.

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack

Country: Netherlands

The football club of Wolfaartsdijk, a village in the province of Zeeland, developed a master plan to make the club energy self-sufficient and climate neutral by 2020. As part of the plan, the club installed 54 PV panels and a revolutionary ‘4D boarding’ system. The 4D boarding is installed along the playing field edge and has rotating panels. During the football matches the boarding displays commercial messages from the sponsors who funded the PV panels. After the match the panels transform into PV panels which face towards the sun. The prominent positioning of the PV panels helps to raise awareness about sustainable energy amongst the club's members and supporters and has stimulated many to install PV panels on the roofs of their own homes.

Country: UK

Energy Alton chose to install solar PV on their local town library. This involved 12 months of negotiation with Hampshire County Council, Yes Energy Solutions (the provider of the solar PV system) and the planning authorities. Apart from an ideal location to maximise the performance of the solar PV, the library was chosen because it is an educational hub, ideally placed to demonstrate the benefits of locally produced renewable energy. Energy Alton lobbied county council members and staff to support the idea of solar panels on the modern library building. Support was given for them to talk directly to estates staff to negotiate a ‘roof agreement’. This was done over 3 months. Energy Alton realised there were drawbacks to owning the solar panels themselves, so they changed tack and decided to gift the panels to the council to reduce a number of operational risks. They negotiated and signed a Memorandum of Agreement that tied Hampshire County Council and Energy Alton together for 15 years. As a direct result, 40 solar panels were installed on the town library which went ‘live’ in October 2013. Under the agreement the parties share the income from the payments under the Feed in Tariff for 15 years and Hampshire Country Council gets free electricity for over 25 years.

Country: UK

Low Carbon West Oxford has installed solar PV projects on a range of buildings in order to spread the benefit across the community and to develop a broader experience that could be shared with other communities. The ‘not for profit’ sector is covered by The King’s Centre roofs; the commercial sector is covered by the Aldi roof; the social rented sector is covered by Oxford City Council housing; and the education sector is covered by Matthew Arnold School.

Source: Low Carbon West Oxford and West Oxford Community Renewables (2010), Low Carbon Living: Power to make it possible

Policies and strategies

Policies and strategies can help to integrate citizen engagement into the planning, delivery and running of all aspects of your project. When developed collaboratively and agreed by your group, they can provide a useful point of reference and consensus view, as well as giving you direction and focus.

While policies and strategies serve a different purpose (a strategy is a plan or approach for achieving an overall goal or objective; a policy is a defined course of action designed to achieve a desired result in a particular situation), they often have a similar format along the following lines:

  1. Introduction and background – who is your group and what is your project?

  2. Purpose – why are you writing the strategy/policy and what benefits will it bring?

  3. Goals and objectives – what do you hope to achieve through the strategy/policy?

  4. Actions (for a strategy) / procedures (for a policy) – how will you achieve the goals and objectives and who will be responsible for doing what when? For a strategy, this could be in the form of a timeline for the coming year. For procedures, you will need to set out a sequence of steps to be taken in a given situation in order to achieve the desired result.

  5. Assessing progress – how will you assess your progress towards achieving your goals? How and how often will the strategy/policy be reviewed to take into account progress made and changes in circumstances?

Possible topics for a policy or strategy include:

Community engagement. Developing a strategy to oversee all your community engagement activities can make sure you have all the ground covered and have actions planned for engaging different groups via a range of channels. For more tips, a useful resource is PlanLoCaL’s guide on ‘Community engagement: Developing a strategy’.

Marketing. A marketing plan or strategy can help you to plan your marketing activities over the coming period, ensuring you have a range of different channels covered for both your ongoing regular communications, as well as for specific marketing to promote your project during key upcoming stages, such as in relation to a share offer or planning application submission. For more tips, see PlanLoCaL’s guide on ‘Writing a marketing plan’.

Health and safety.  If there are any health and safety considerations associated with delivering your project, it makes sense to summarise these in a policy document for all those involved in the project to be made aware of precautions and other steps they need to take.

Procurement. If you will be regularly purchasing supplies to deliver your project, a procurement policy can be used to support specific external suppliers who are local or who reflect a particular ethos. Research or word of mouth can help you to find appropriate suppliers who fit in with the values and objectives of your project. A sustainable sourcing policy may be a good marketing tool, so this can be well worth the effort.

Funding. A funding strategy can help to support the delivery of a sustainable funding model, ensuring you make the most of opportunities to bring money into your project.

Recruitment and group management. Having a strategy for recruiting and utilising volunteers can help you to make the most of local support and resources. A recruitment policy can then provide guidance on the steps to be taken in order to appoint someone and to provide initial training and inductions. If your project involves employment of staff, you may need to include details on absence reporting, disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Bath and West Community Energy have an Election Policy which governs the election process for their directors. The document sets out election controls, candidate eligibility criteria, and the nomination and voting process. When the policy was developed, it was made available to all their members for scrutiny, and a copy is sent to all candidates upon successful nomination to ensure they are aware of the process involved. The policy may be changed from time to time by the Board or by the members approving a resolution at a General Meeting.

Country: UK

The Big Lemon has a clear procurement policy which defines what the parameters are for purchasing supplies to run its community bus service.  In order to do this, they collected accurate information on usage of supplies, lead times for different things and preferred supplier lists. Identifying their preferred suppliers involved researching different organisations in order to find those which had a similar ethos. Their sustainable sourcing forms a key part of their marketing to the community, and they inform customers about what ingredients are in the products they use.

Source: Community-Led Transport Initiatives action pack

Partnership working

Partnership working can enable you to access a pool of different customers, supporters and volunteers, to share costs, to access new funding sources, and to have a bigger impact than you would otherwise have on your own. Scoping exercises may help you to identify possible individuals, groups or organisations to approach about the potential for working in partnership.

A great deal can be learnt from other community projects’ experiences of partnership working. Low Carbon West Oxford, a community-led initiative working to reduce its community’s carbon emissions in West Oxford, has developed a wide range of partnerships for different purposes. From their experience, the members of the management committee have built on Oxfam GB’s “Five Principles of Partnership” to produce their own partnership principles, outlined in their “Low Carbon Living: Power to Make it Possible” publication as follows:

  • Complementarity and added value – partnership working is most useful when different partners bring distinct and complementary contributions;

  • Clarity and respect for the different roles and contributions of government, council, private sector and communities – both monetary and non-monetary;

  • Upstream joint decision making – early discussions to develop co-ownership and consensus are better than belated consultation;

  • Mutual understanding and respect – about different roles and responsibilities;

  • Transparency and accountability – openness and honesty in working relationships and accountability to people and organisations not at the table;

  • Competence – including reliability and delivering on commitments;

  • Clarity about exit strategies –clarity about the length of involvement in the partnership, and plans for eventual withdrawal;

  • Early wins – help keep partnership members motivated.

These principles can be useful in helping you to identify suitable partnership opportunities, to develop appropriate partnership agreements and to guide how your partnership is organised and works in practice. The detail will depend on the precise nature of your project, who you are seeking to partner with and for what purpose.

Possible groups and organisations to consider working in partnership with include:

Local government. Local government is a vast source of local knowledge, with its fingers in many pies. It can be a potential source of funding, a delivery partner or simply somewhere to go for advice and guidance. Topics it could provide support on include the planning process and local policies on matters from waste disposal to housing and green spaces, or relevant community contacts across a range of sectors. Local government is also often a significant local landowner, perhaps holding sites that you could enquire about involving in your project.

Schools. Schools are hubs of the local community. They can be useful to work with to engage children and young families, for example if you wish to deliver an educational project that could tie into the national curriculum. Alternatively, schools can simply be a good place to find a handy in-kind venue or a useful channel for distributing some of your marketing material.

Universities. Universities can help you to engage young people and can provide a useful academic dimension to your project. You could perhaps develop a collaborative research study or involve staff or students in evaluating or analysing the impact of your project.

Community groups. Community groups pursuing social or environmental aims are likely to have similar values and objectives to your group. They can therefore be a good partner to collaborate with, providing additional resources to help set up, fundraise for, promote and deliver a project. Common groups to consider include those affiliated with the Transition Network, Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace. How you organise the partnership and allocate responsibilities is likely to determine how well you work together – establishing an entirely new joint group may be the best option.

Local businesses. Local businesses may be willing to support your project in-kind, through providing complementary or discounted products or services, or by sponsoring a particular event or project. The benefits of this are two-way: money saved and greater local connections for your project, and additional promotion and positive PR for the business! Support could come in the form of, for example, a monetary contribution, a free venue and refreshments, or legal or financial assistance.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Carbon Co-op’s activities are fairly narrow and targeted, specifically around energy efficiency and whole house retrofit, and as a consequence they have found that they need to work with other organisations and partners to be effective. They work with a wide range of other community and voluntary sector organisations which enables them to reach a wider audience and share effort and resources. Community media is particularly effective and they often visit community radio stations or write articles for blogs. Collaborations with local authorities have also been particularly useful. Due to budget cuts, Councils are increasingly limited in the scope and scale of what they can achieve. Many officers and Councillors are happy to work in collaboration with a community energy organisation that can be more flexible and access a wider range of funding than a statutory organisation. They have found that with all their all partnerships, careful discussion is required between the parties to understand shared priorities and identify areas for collaborations and to avoid misunderstandings or unnecessary duplication of activities. This approach reflects the sixth co-operative principle around networking and collaboration, which they are bound by as a Community Benefit Society.

Country: Ireland

Iona and District Resident's Association (IDRA) partnered with Codema, Dublin’s energy agency, to deliver an energy smart community project in the Glasnevin/ Drumcondra area of Dublin. Between 2009-2010, a very successful pilot Energy Smart Community was ran which allowed homeowners to join together with their local community to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, while availing of energy-saving grants from the Irish government. The principle behind this project was to bring homeowners together in a ‘cluster’ to help them save money on their overall energy bills while taking advantage of the environmental and social benefits for the community. The IDRA committee developed a very strong working relationship with Codema and helped the energy agency to spread the word about the scheme by providing local community connections and assisting with leaflet drops and the use of the Energy Smart Community logo on promotional material. The committee also invited Codema along to local meetings to help build trust with the local residents. IDRA further connected with and attendance the local parish and advised on key communication channels to advertise local meetings and events (parish newsletter, community websites, local paper, etc). During this pilot scheme, Codema also made valuable connections with the local bank and credit union; representatives attended local meetings to talk about ‘green’ financing options available to residents.

Country: UK

Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo) ran a Pop Up Energy Shop in September 2014, working in partnership with National Energy Action, Citizens Advice Bureau and Hove Station Neighbourhoods Forum. This partnership strengthened their ability to engage with the community. Over the week, they gave impartial advice on reducing fuel bills by improving energy efficiency, switching energy supplier and fuel debt advice. More than 150 people visited the shop. 20 people brought in their energy bills, allowing BHESCo to explain their fuel tariffs. They saved an estimated £2,500 collectively for the people who switched energy supplier, ranging from £50 to £650 per household. Their partners were instrumental in helping them to realise the event. Hove Station Neighbourhoods Forum helped BHESCo secure an empty shop as a venue on the busy high street in Hove. Freegle, an online reuse service, was able to provide free use of discarded chairs and tables, reducing their costs and highlighting the importance of reuse. Volunteers from Transition Town Worthing and the Money Works team also helped them to improve their reach.

Country: UK

Energy Alton have worked in partnership with local authorities to deliver an insulation scheme and a community renewable energy initiative. In 2012 volunteers from Energy Alton, along with staff from the Insulate Hampshire team, a local government team with the same aims, combined to distribute over 4,500 rolls of loft insulation to more than 500 homeowners in the Alton area (population circa 16,000), saving over £27,000 in the first 12 months.  Energy Alton also negotiated with Amery Hill School to use their car park to receive the deliveries of insulation. The reward for the community for their collective effort was the offer of a 10kW solar PV installation on a community building in the area. They decided to install solar PV on the local library, requiring a Memorandum of Agreement between Energy Alton and Hampshire County Council. This was the first in Hampshire and probably unique in the UK for the agreement to share the Feed-In Tariff between a local authority and a community group. Feed-In Tariff payments of just over £1,300 per year will be shared equally between Energy Alton and Hampshire County Council to save on the annual library energy bill, and to support the projects and energy advice services offered by Energy Alton to the local community. They identify three factors that were key for making collaboration on the solar PV project work:

  • Doing their homework – nobody at the County Council knew about roof agreements – Energy Alton researched it first and had draft documents ready to discuss;
  • High level support – they lobbied the Chairman of the Council and the Executive Team, who then opened the doors for officers to sit down and talk to them;
  • Persistence – the project was low on the list of priorities (understandably) for people in the Council but Energy Alton kept plugging away. They had to change direction substantially mid-project but the end result was the same.
Country: France

Plaine Sud Energies’ project was to install solar panels on the roofs of schools. Being a collective project, it aimed to take into account all the stakeholders. Therefore, an educational project was developed in association with teaching staff at the schools in order to explain to the pupils how solar energy and the panels work. Energy is part of the school program. However, this topic is not always easy to cover. The project supplied a concrete example for teachers - for instance, the monitoring of the energy generated from the solar panels was a good reason to do mathematics exercises.

Feasibility and planning

Citizen engagement is a key activity when assessing the feasibility of your project and submitting a planning application. During these stages, not only is engagement about consulting the community, keeping them informed and generating support, but also about dealing with sensitive matters – knowing when the time is right to release information, and taking care to engage with opposition groups. Considerations highlighted in the Community-Led Wind Power action pack include:

Feasibility. During the early stages of the project, it is important to be clear about the intentions of the group, its aspirations and ethics. At the same time it is important not to undermine the group’s position with the landlord or the planning authority. Public meetings are not necessarily a good idea when details are unknown. Possible actions include:

  • Personally meet opinion formers

  • Recruit a strong support group

  • Keep communication honest and simple

  • Some things will have to be kept within a small group – explain why if necessary

  • Project website and social media set up

  • Article in local parish magazine explaining exploratory work

  • Start building mailing list

Planning. When the planning application is ready to go in, this will be the best time to go fully public with site details, for both planning and engagement purposes. Some subgroups may need to ‘soft launch’ to their wider group before this. A public meeting will be needed to show that proper public consultations have been undertaken. More importantly, this is the chance to start really connecting the community to ‘its’ project: these are the people who will live near the site and who are likely to be most involved and affected. Public meetings can be hard work – for more potentially controversial projects, such as wind power developments, quite often people will be very worried about what it means for them, worries which are frequently stoked by inaccurate or misleading campaigns by objectors. A lot of this comes down to your group – make sure you seek support from people who have done this before, and that there are a lot of you trained up and ready to answer questions. When the application is in you then need to work hard to convert your support into actual letters in support of the application. Possible actions include:

  • Public exhibitions

  • Press releases

  • Online campaign and word of mouth

  • Ask supporters to lobby committee members and write letters of support

  • Attend local events

  • Listen to local concerns and address them wherever possible

Case Studies
Country: France

Plaine Sud Energies’ feasibility study for the installation of solar panels was led by the regional association for the development of solidarity economy (ARDES), assigned by the municipality communities to implement the project. The communication around the project amongst citizens first started after the feasibility phase. The reason for this was that it seemed more relevant and efficient to mobilise citizens with concrete information: what buildings would be involved, what was the estimated budget, etc. For the project leaders, it seemed unwise to mobilise citizens until the project had proved its technical and financial feasibility and viability. However, through the created association, citizens were quickly involved in the first decisions: they chose the installer and approved the selected buildings to implement the project.

Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury recognised that letters of support would be important in helping to ensure the success of the planning application for their community owned solar farm. They appealed to their supporters via their mailing list to write letters to their local planning authority. However, they were wary that lots of identical letters would not be as helpful as different letters with a variety of points, so rather than setting out the points for people to make, they invited people to use their own ideas, and circulated a link to the Community Engagement Report which they submitted with their planning application for inspiration. They made the process easier for people by setting out who and where letters should be addressed to, as well as the planning reference number to quote.

Country: UK

Gamlingay Community Turbine took great care to respond to any opposition to their community turbine project. From their experience, they recommend that responses should always be polite and respectful, but also robust. Questions should be answered promptly, and a website to give information and receive questions is very useful. For example, one objector wrote a letter in the local paper incorrectly saying that a report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors had shown house prices were significantly reduced by wind farms. Their response was to quote the report’s conclusion precisely word for word and put a link on their website encouraging people to check for themselves.  Similarly a poster was put up at a viewpoint saying the view would be spoiled. Their response was another poster adjacent to it with a picture of a thumb at arms length with the turbine drawn next to it to scale, once again letting people judge for themselves. The caption ‘thumbs up for the wind turbine’ hopefully helped lighten things up.

Country: UK

Kemp's Hill Wind Co-op adopted the strategy of getting as much information as possible to the local community from the outset in order to understand local public opinion. When the planning reference number was known, an A4 page information brochure was sent out to the closest 400 houses within a 4 mile radius of the site to explain how a co-op works, what it is and how it can benefit the local economy. It also showed photomontage viewpoints of the proposed wind turbine. They sent personal invitations to residents near to the site, as well as to local councillors, when organising their public exhibition. Their public exhibition involved displays of viewpoints of the turbine and provided details about the co-op. They had a comment box at the event for people to respond to a brief survey of public opinion. Following the exhibition, the 13 display boards were put online to give more people a chance to view the information. They also specifically sought to engage individuals and groups who may oppose their project by contacting a nearby anti-wind turbine group to ask their opinion about a community owned wind turbine, and to ask for their recommendations. The group recommended good community communication and keeping people informed, and suggested that offering meaningful community benefit could have a positive effect. In particular, they proposed calling a near-neighbour meeting to explain plans and consider any feedback and suggestions.

Country: UK

Gamlingay Community Turbine found that it was absolutely vital that public consultation started well ahead of the planning application for their community wind turbine, otherwise it would appear that the details of the project were already fixed and the consultation was simply a formality. They found the timing of ‘going public’ a difficult decision. Too soon and you will appear ill-prepared and unable to answer questions, too late and your plans will be leaked prematurely and there is a risk you will be accused of secrecy. In practice there is a lot that can be done to assess the viability of a wind energy project with little expenditure. The Civil Aviation Authority and Ofcom are very helpful regarding aviation and microwave links and basic wind resource and noise assessments can be done using data from the internet. They decided to go public when they had checked the obvious potential ‘show stoppers’, with the exception of wildlife issues. They had been advised that a ‘bat survey’ would be needed, but were able to tell people at their meetings that this was underway. They also took care to ensure that no one was left out of their engagement. It looks, and is, very bad if a key stakeholder, such as the owner of a nearby property, learns about the project second hand. They found delivering leaflets to be a good way of making sure everyone in the appropriate area is informed in good time. Gamlingay used a map of the village to make sure every household was leafleted and a few volunteers got this done in a couple of days. To be sure, they also knocked on a couple of doors of nearby properties to ensure they were informed and to head off any impression of being anonymous. Key stakeholders such as the Parish Council and local aerodromes were notified at the same time.