Large scale infrastructure projects can reshape national life. Take Hinkley Point C, for example. When it’s completed, the UK’s first new nuclear power station for twenty years will power around six million homes.
Importantly, this low carbon energy source is set to offset 9 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year – an important step in bringing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. But from the day construction starts, infrastructure projects of this scale have a significant impact on local communities – and it’s not always a positive one.
The nearby Somerset town of Bridgwater has always evolved with the times. From its role as a brick manufacturer during the industrial revolution to becoming the home of British Cellophane in the twentieth century, Bridgwater even hosted the first wave of nuclear power stations in the 1950s.
But its sheer scale means Hinkley Point C will have an unprecedented impact on the town, reshaping life in the area for decades to come. So, how can local infrastructure projects create a lasting, positive relationship with the local community and ensure that everyone benefits?
Major construction projects are often associated with negative consequences for local people. Beyond the noise and environmental impact of the site itself, construction traffic can clog up the roads and cause delays. In the case of Hinkley Point C, the developer EDF Energy obtained permission for 750 lorry movements a day through Bridgwater.
Equally, the influx of workers can overwhelm a town and create high competition for accommodation. Hinkley Point C hosts around 4,300 workers on-site which serves up extra challenges – this kind of influx of employees in a region can be associated with issues like anti-social behaviour.
From the beginning, however, EDF aimed to avoid these pitfalls. Hinkley Point C is involved in Project 13, a movement for public infrastructure projects to set the highest standard in construction practices. When it comes to the community, Hinkley Point has been committed to “minimising local disturbance and maximising local benefits” through a combination of long-term planning and clear communication.
In relation to housing for the new employees, EDF has worked hard to mitigate local disturbance. A £50m project was set up to develop campus living accommodation to host up to 1,496 workers. The impact of the accommodation’s construction was even minimised by using off-site manufacturing, so that rooms were delivered to the site 96% complete.
This kind of planning can be seen across many elements of the project. To mitigate the impact to local road traffic, Hinkley Point C incorporates a new jetty and improvements to a wharf enabling deliveries by sea. A Park & Ride system has been set up on the outskirts of Bridgwater, so that visitors and employees can take buses to the site itself.
Hinkley Point C underlines the value of considering every element of the build and the perhaps less obvious consequences for the local community. Whatever the size of the project, this planning is an area where digital tools can help; for example, BIM data management systems like Assemble can identify the materials and labour needed on a project and support timelines.
High productivity is also important so that construction can be finished as quickly as possible, and Hinkley project teams are using BIM and other digital technologies for that reason. For example, the scale of the evacuation and construction work makes monitoring progress challenging. To address this, each month, a team flies a drone to survey the site and create a point cloud of the current status.
Using technologies that include Autodesk ReCap and Civil 3D, the team can build an up to date model of the site’s terrain and newly constructed assets and calculate the amount of material that has been added and removed. This enables the team to monitor progress closely and keep the project on schedule.
But as well as disruption, every stage of large infrastructure projects can create significant opportunities for the local community: during pre-construction, construction, handover and in the long-term delivery of secondary services. EDF estimates that the construction of Hinkley Point C will create 25,000 employment opportunities in total, injecting £200m into the local economy.
Locally, a new nature reserve is being created at the rear of the site using materials evacuated to construct the deep cooling and power infrastructure; this will help to develop and preserve the region’s ecology.
Beyond the immediate area, the project is also set to benefit UK construction as a whole. Two thirds of the total construction value will go to UK-based companies, where the work can have a significant impact. At Caledonian Modular, an offsite construction specialist in England, winning the contract to deliver the campus accommodation enabled the firm to double its workforce and relaunch its apprentice scheme.
And it’s here that large infrastructure projects can also deliver value: by training the next generation of construction workers. EDF has committed to providing 1,000 apprenticeships, in a move that mirrors the academies that are part of both HS2 and Crossrail – two other significant infrastructure projects in the UK. By addressing skills shortages – particularly in digital technology – projects can benefit the industry in the long term.
A really important part of building a relationship with the local community is communication and transparency. Hinkley Point C runs a visitor centre in Bridgwater, where visitors can see the latest updates on the work. There are also regular forums which enable neighbours to have their say.
Digital tools can help to engage local residents with a project. EDF provides a virtual tour of Hinkley Point C on its website, complete with 360-degree views of the work being carried out. With tools like BIM 360 and virtual reality, more projects are able to show their plans to local stakeholders – and even get feedback before construction starts.
Whether it’s for the public sector or a new private development, large scale developments will always have a significant impact on the local community. There’s no doubt that maintaining good relations can be difficult.
But Hinkley Point C underlines that long-term planning and transparency can help to foster positive relationships. Together, EDF Energy and local residents can now work to ensure that Hinkley Point C represents the next positive evolution in the town of Bridgwater while tackling the greenhouse gas emissions in the UK for future generations.
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