The effective management and coordination of what can be a multifaceted consultant team is key to the successful preparation and delivery of an Environmental Statement (ES). Depending on the nature of the project, such teams can be large in number, have a wide range of skills and knowledge and varying degrees of experience of EIA and the preparation of an ES.
Effective management and coordination of a consultant team has been increasingly difficult in the last year, particularly given the circumstances and restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consultant teams have been unable to meet face to face and a greater number of consultants are working from home.
Andrew Martin Planning has a strong track record of successfully leading, managing and coordinating consultant teams in the preparation of ESs on a range of major projects. This article sets out some of the key things we have learnt over the years, but also more recently, to effectively manage and coordinate consultant teams to successfully deliver an ES in a timely manner.
It is important that the details of the project and timetable are effectively communicated to the consultant team at the inception of the project. At Andrew Martin Planning, we prepare and share a detailed ‘project pack’ to each consultant, which sets out the key details of the project and a detailed timetable for the delivery of the project. The pack also includes details about the site and planning context, description of development and parameter plans. The pack will also include the initial structure of the ES and the layout of each technical chapter. Chapter templates and formats are also provided to ensure consistency of approach. An inception meeting follows to ensure consultants are fully briefed and key milestones are effectively communicated.
‘Freeze’ the Parameters and Details of the Project Early in the Process
The preparation of ESs are always more straightforward where the details of a project, particularly the parameters, are ‘frozen’ early in the process. While proposals will inevitably change throughout the preparation of the ES, as far as possible, it is better if consultants are able to undertake their initial assessments with the confidence that proposals will not change significantly over the duration of the preparation of the ES. ‘Freezing’ parameters ensures that the consultant team assesses the same proposals and should additional changes or mitigation be required (i.e. iterative process) then these can be consolidated as part of one overall revision of proposals, rather than a number of smaller piecemeal changes made at different stages in the drafting process. Any changes made to proposals or further ‘freezing’ of parameters should be effectively communicated to the wider consultant team to ensure they are well considered by all.
Regular Dialogue and Engagement with the Consultant Team
It goes without saying that regular engagement and dialogue with the consultant is important for effective management. Such engagement is important to ensure the project remains on track and that any issues and problems that may arise during the preparation of the ES are identified early to ensure they can be dealt with in a timely manner. At Andrew Martin Planning, we undertake regular project meetings to discuss progress and any issues that arise throughout the process. Such an approach provides consultants with a forum to provide regular updates and have positive dialogue, with not only the project coordinator and client, but also other consultants. This is particularly important where specialism overlap or where there is an interrelationship between effects. We find regular, open and through discussion results in a smoother process and is an important aspect in ensuring successful delivery.
Many of us before the pandemic had never partaken in a virtual meeting, however these are now a common part of day to day working life. Andrew Martin Planning has found that over the last year regular virtual meetings have been an important tool in effective management and coordination. This has ensured that we have been able to maintain effective dialogue with consultants and have been able to maintain projects progress despite the difficult circumstances. Other technology which has been effective is file sharing sites. These have ensured that large digital files e.g. reports and assessment can be effectively shared and distributed to ensure the consultant team is fully informed. This has been particularly beneficial from a project coordination point of view when reviewing draft documents and when compiling the final ES.
Effective coordination and management of a consultant team is vital to the successful delivery of an ES. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this more challenging. However, the effective utilisation of technology has ensured that dialogue and management of consultant teams has been maintained. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, it is our experience that a detailed inception stage, the ‘freezing’ of parameters and regular dialogue with the consultant team are other key aspects to ensuring smooth preparation of an ES.
Prepared by Ian Butcher, Associate Director, Andrew Martin Planning – January 2021