News and Comment

We Need to Talk About Infrastructure

Thursday 19 March 2015


Consultation and Engagement specialists Dialogue by Design and UCL’s respected Transport Institute bring together experts from a range of fields on 23 March 2015 to debate the role of public engagement in delivering major infrastructure projects

Approaching what is widely understood to be the most uncertain General Election in post-war Britain, one outcome can be guaranteed: considerable consensus across the political spectrum on the importance of significant Government investment in infrastructure projects will remain.

Plans detailed in the National Infrastructure Plan to invest £375 billion up to 2020 and beyond cannot be delivered without strong and enduring political will – an admission that the short term nature of our electoral cycle has obstructed investment in UK infrastructure in the past.

It is also generally accepted that within the legislative framework of the Planning Act, consent for all significant infrastructure projects relies on developers engaging with local communities. Sustained, high profile campaigns of local opposition to schemes such as HS2 and wind energy installations have threatened to fracture the very political consensus that delivery of major infrastructure relies upon.

Successful engagement is now more important than ever before.

But how can this need to renew infrastructure building on a scale necessary be reconciled with taking into account the views of an increasingly informed and motivated citizenry? Is engagement with the public just a resource-intensive chore that achieves little other than slowing essential developments to a snail’s pace? Can sceptical project sponsors be convinced that engagement is more than a means of managing dissent? Is it an effective way of improving project developments, ensuring that the public has the opportunity to shape proposals? And can we improve on the way we use engagement so that it leads to better outcomes?

Co-hosts Dialogue by Design and UCL Transport Institute will bring together engagement practitioners, developers and academics in this afternoon seminar at the NCVO’s headquarters in London to provide valuable insights into the role of public engagement and debate the challenges and opportunities for engagement in delivering major infrastructure projects.

Announcement of the event was welcomed by the expert speakers:

Dr Jack Stilgoe, Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, UCL said: “Public debates about infrastructure often get stuck in what is sometimes called NIMBYism. As public engagement with science and technology moves upstream, perhaps there is the possibility of a more constructive conversation.”

Diane Beddoes, Chief Executive, Dialogue by Design said: “Many of the new infrastructure projects we run consultations for at Dialogue by Design are contested by individuals, communities and sometimes stakeholders. Infrastructure projects of national significance have impacts – both positive and negative – on local people and communities that need to be heard and understood.  We believe that good engagement on new infrastructure projects can help to improve the quality of decision-making, reduce risk and ensure that the views of those affected are taken into consideration. If we are serious about infrastructure investment, then we must be equally serious about effective dialogue and consultation with opponents and proponents.”




Note to Editors

The ‘We Need to Talk About Infrastructure’ seminar will take place between 14:00 – 18:00 on Monday 23rd March 2015 at NCVO, Society House, 8 All Saints Street, London N1 9RL. The debate will be chaired by Jim Steer (Founder, Steer Davies Gleave), with speakers Professor Brian Collins (Professor of Engineering Policy and Director, International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF), UCL), Dr Jack Stilgoe (Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, UCL), Diane Beddoes (Chief Executive, Dialogue by Design) and Will Bridges (Lead Consents Officer, North West Coast Connections, National Grid).


About Dialogue by Design

Dialogue by Design designs and delivers bespoke public and stakeholder engagement and consultation services. Dialogue by Design specialises in handling consultations on contentious or technically complex issues and are experts at running consultations for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Dialogue by Design with sister company OPM comprises the OPM Group: an independent, employee-owned research organisation and consultancy.         



About UCL Transport Institute

The UCL Transport Institute has been set up to foster cross-disciplinary transport research and to increase the policy impact of that research.



For further information please contact


t: 0207 239 7800