Author: John McGrath
Contributors: Juliet Whitcomb, Tam Nguyen
As part of Bechtel’s commitment to contribute 100 ideas to support the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this case study examines the efforts to build local inclusivity in urban communities impacted by major construction projects.
SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
SDG Target 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
SDG Target 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
In London, Crossrail Ltd. selected Bechtel as its project delivery partner for the new high-frequency, high-capacity railway for London and the South East. As the largest engineering project in Europe, the project spans 26 miles below the city’s streets, and the overall project is nearing completion.
Halfhearted, fragmented community engagement throughout the duration of the project, including construction, can shape and influence the projects’ sustainability outcomes, and affect their benefits, long after they have been completed. Infrastructure projects are not just delivering a physical asset, but also an “enabling environment” that supports the project, the beneficiaries, and the operators.
Deep integration with the community is critical to building lasting and impactful projects. Each step throughout the project’s lifecycle must be more than just part of the end goal, but a piece of the community’s welfare and future development. The value of deep integration is in the engagement and relationship-building with the people.
Bechtel’s integration into the London community began early with the hiring of a community engagement team to liaise between the project team and London community officials. Having a single point of contact for all the project’s issues and risks provided feedback in a timely manner. The team worked with contractors to develop community engagement plans informed by local community demographics, key stakeholders, and priorities.
While Crossrail will provide transportation to millions of passengers every year, and dramatically decrease travel times, we quickly learned that the excitement built around this project was not felt by the entire community. Upon entering the project site, we had to make it very clear that for the community, there was a designated focal point for the project and a dedicated team to address their concerns. We wanted input, opinions, and feedback from the community because whether a citizen would be using the new underground or not, the project still affected them.
Throughout the project’s lifecycle, we worked hard to build and maintain constructive relationships with those in the surrounding community. The overarching goal of our time spent within London was to not only complete Crossrail, but minimize our footprint and internalize potential negative externalities, to the extent practicable, that may be generated by the construction and transferred to the operations phase.
At one point the project shared a fence line with a local school. Before moving forward with our work, we frequently met with school officials to create a schedule that decreased noise levels and other potential hazards during school and exam hours, specifically keeping in mind students who may need more time with exams and other activities.
The mitigation plans were continuously developed in partnership with the school. For example, at one point the team needed to access sewage tunnels located beneath the school’s playground. To prevent from having to end the students’ exercise, the team rented out a local pool and climbing wall facility for weeks at a time.
Beyond the school, we put in place other measures to mitigate impacts to those living and working along our project route. The team quickly learned that being able to adapt based on the needs of the community would be an important lesson learned. We provided business continuity signage for shops and market traders and maintained access for their deliveries, when routes were altered by our works. We also worked with the local fire department to create safe alternative routes should there be an emergency while sections of roads and walkways were blocked off.
At times, the project began to affect those living in the community around us as we needed to work at unsociable hours to avoid impacting existing train services during the day. We monitored and assessed the grievances submitted to local authorities, as well as social media conversations. This lead to a multitude of proactive elements, including utilizing a real-time noise model that dictated when to stop using certain tools/equipment for set durations of time until we could align with the ‘allowable limits.’ By predicting noisy work in advance, the project could provide temporary hotel accommodations for the residents most impacted by night time work. Local authorities were reassured that the needs of residents were considered and addressed through the package of measures put in place.
An effective way to build support for the project was to provide opportunities for local people to see ‘behind the hoardings’ through a series of open days. Being able to see the scale of the works and talk to the project engineers about the construction challenges helped people to understand and engage with the project in a more positive way.
IV. Key Learnings
Building an inclusive community for densely-populated urban projects was a key strategy to mitigate social risk, and by extension, short and long-term project risks. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the guiding principle was to seamlessly integrate into their daily lives and develop a symbiotic relationship. This required being truly present, orchestrating deliberate dialogues, and performing ongoing engagement with local communities. Also, corporate benefits only go so far in addressing complex local issues and concerns related to the project’s impact. The changing circumstances of the project, and the priorities of the impacted community, are in a state of flux. Community plans and programs therefore need to be flexible; not fixed. The use of enhanced technologies like predictive analytics can capture patterns of social issues and grievances and help projects calibrate plans more effectively and become more proactive.