In any project, there will be ‘unknown unknowns’, as George Bush would say, and which have the potential to either delay the project, or add to the cost – or both!
Here are some of ours:
ESB: If you need a pole moved (even a few cm!) or need power ‘lit’ to a set of traffic lights, or ANYTHING which requires the ESB to carry out works, put the request in as early as you can. Expect it to take WAY longer than you think is reasonable, then quadruple that time. You still won’t be anywhere near to guessing how long it will be before you see the yellow ESB van pulling up on site
Land ownership/ access: The owner/ occupier of a piece of ground can prevent you from entering onto the property, and thus prevent you from carrying out surveys etc. If you’re contracting the surveying out, this means an additional expense, if the contractor has to come back another time to do the bit he was prevented from surveying on his first visit. So, serve Notice to Enter on any prospective ‘awkward clients’ sooner rather than later.
Where land use has to be obtained, you may need to have a cut-off date for coming to an agreement with the owners/ occupiers. If by then, no agreement has been reached, you will need to be prepared to move on to a more formal process of acquiring the land, as there will be considerable time involved in getting to the end of whatever measure you take. For example, the making of a Compulsory Purchase Order will take a minimum of nine months to get to the stage where you can take possession of the ground and enter onto the lands (the compensation issue for the previous occupants may take years after that to conclude!)
Compulsory Purchase: We unfortunately had to take the decision to acquire a small section of the route by CPO. This carried a cost. Legal advice, the cost of adverts in the local press and registered post to all prospective parties involved in the CPO, An Bord Pleanala’s fees for the Oral Hearing, adverts again when it came to serving the Notice to Treat……it all adds up. In our case, the bill is running at €24,000 approx. – and that’s before the issue of compensating anyone for the loss of use of land or disturbance to their enjoyment of their property is factored in (this has not yet concluded).
Mitigation works: Landowners along the route may have concerns and may request that you provide some form of fencing or screening to their properties. They may request that you install a gate to accommodate a right of way they have across the canal to a field on the other side…… these are just two of the things we were asked to deal with. Our advice is:
- engage with the landowner early in the process
- engage with them face to face, if possible, and informally
- summarise the main points of the meeting, who was there, and what decisions were agreed in writing, and circulate this to all parties who attended. Ask them to confirm if the minutes of the meeting are accurate. These can be a good reference point if it turns out months down the road that a landowner has a different understanding of what you agreed with regard maybe to the height of the fence, the width of the gate, etc
Surveys: The most common cry to be heard at a team meeting in the early stages was ‘for feck’s sake, just give me the keys to the bulldozer and I’ll have her dug by lunchtime’. Even though you would think that a gravel-surfaced pathway built on a structure which itself had been designed to act as a pathway is a simple task, there are still a lot of surveys to be done before you can let loose with the JCB. Ground condition surveys, topographical surveys, ecological surveys, road safety surveys…….. They all eat into your budget, so make sure you build them in from the start.
We spent over €28,000 on surveys, as follows:
- Ecological Impact Assessment €2,900 approx. – needed for Planning permission
- Topographical Survey of towpath €7,400 approx. – needed in order to have accurate drawings of the site
- Stage 1 Road Safety Assessment of proposed junction interfaces with Greenway €1,900 approx. – needed in order to determine the safest points to cross roads etc
- Ground Investigation €10,000 approx. – Involved digging test holes to determine how stable the banks were and if they could hold the proposed path
- Stage 2 Road Safety Assessment €1,300 approx. – needed to examine the detailed design of the proposed road interfaces
- Bat survey €1,200 approx. – required by Planning before work could commence. Involved night time work, so extra cost
- Badger survey €1,000 – ditto
- Section 50 survey – €500 – required to assess the potential of the Greenway to interfere with a small stream which cut across the canal
- Stage 3 Road Safety Audit – €1,600 – carried out once the crossings are in place, to ensure that they are not hazardous
We also spent just over €5,500 doing a baseline survey of walking and cycling in the town, so that we would be able to measure whether the Greenway had had an impact on the behaviour of the public, and thus had it succeeded in contributing to the Dept of Transport’s objective of achieving a ‘modal shift’ away from the private motor car to more sustainable forms of transportation. A similar amount will be needed to repeat the survey a year on, to see what impact the project has had on walking and cycling levels in the town.
Identity & Launch: Often this bit gets overlooked, or tacked on in a rush at the end. This is the public face of your project, and a lack of thought here can give the project the wrong tone, affect how it is perceived, and therefore affect the level of public support your project enjoys. The launch, similarly, is your shop window; your best chance to communicate what you intend for the project and to put across concepts behind the project such as sustainable transport. Local Authorities too often leave the generation of media interest in their activities to outsiders – who often want to complain rather than point out the good work. Use this opportunity for some positive exposure, and to build good relations with the locals along the route and the various groups etc which will use it. You never know when you will need their trust and goodwill in the future.
We wanted the Ulster Canal Greenway to be strongly associated with the unique role the canal plays as a wildlife corridor and the special asset it presents in terms of 80 years’s uncultivated growths-worth of a seed bed accumulated on its banks. We also wanted it to be strongly associated with the environmental sustainability agenda. Thinking about what message we wished to get across, and bouncing it around again and again enabled us to ensure that we had a really strong design brief, which led to a really strong logo for the project. Well, we think so, anyway!