Globally, airports are controversial. Noise, air quality, safety and, in Australia, airport privatisation, place them high on the political and community agenda.
Within this environment, and driven by escalating passenger demand, Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) proposed a New Parallel Runway (NPR) for Brisbane Airport – the first runway project in Australia for 20 years.
Bayly Willey Holt (BWH) implemented a 22-month Public Engagement Program (PEP), coinciding with BAC’s development of a Government-assessable Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/MDP) (appendix 5), which concluded with a 90-day formal submission and public comment period.
The proactive, resource-rich program was punctuated by three research phases, and differentiated by innovative tools and community activities.
The multi-faceted program included a unique radial engagement methodology to reach the most directly and indirectly affected stakeholders.
Engagement success is best judged by comparing program reach with the number of submissions – the quantum and content influencing the Government’s wiliness to proceed to technical assessment.
Validated research showed 70% or 483,000 of an estimated 690,000 people living within the 20 kilometre radial engagement catchment were aware of the project.
Only 196 submissions were received. Satisfied with the program’s integrity, in April 2007 the Federal Government accepted the EIS/MDP for technical assessment.
South East Queensland is experiencing unprecedented growth putting existing infrastructure under enormous pressure. Brisbane Airport is no different. It is the fastest growing capital city airport in Australia and passenger numbers are expected to balloon from 15 million today to 50 million by 2035.
It is in this context that BAC has committed $2.2 billion in infrastructure spending over the next decade, with the $800 million NPR as the centrepiece.
While Brisbane Airport is three times larger in area than Sydney Airport and enjoys significant buffer zones, it is not immune to community, media and political criticism. Previous Airport Master Plans have drawn community outrage – street demonstrations, court actions and senate enquiries.
Therefore, the proposal to build a new runway, while validated in economic and passenger demand terms, was destined to provoke critical public scrutiny and comment.
The Federal Government’s approval process which necessitates the lodgement of an Environmental Impact Statement and Major Development Plan (EIS/MDP), involves a rigorous assessment of technical data and community attitudes to the social, environmental and economic impacts revealed. (appendix 1)
Because of the complexity of the NPR project, comprising vegetation removal, flight path changes and dredging 15 Mm3 of Moreton Bay sand for the runway platform, the extent of the community engagement was necessarily the most far-reaching of any undertaken in Brisbane.
Not only did BAC have to connect with the hundreds of thousands of stakeholders living under or near existing and future flight paths, it also had to take into account those with specific environmental concerns.
Having analysed the complexities of the task, BWH’s program delivered relevant, understandable information to targeted stakeholders. It was underpinned by risk analysis, research, clear interpretation of complex technical information, regular contact with governments and an open approach to sharing information.
• Extensive desktop research to understand aviation technology and terminology;
• Analysis of community engagement undertaken for similar international projects – US, New Zealand (including a field trip to Auckland Airport), UK, including discussions with those involved;
• Analysis of Sydney’s runway experience, reviewing Senate Committee outcomes, interviewing Federal Airports representatives for lessons learnt;
• Analysis of statutory community engagement requirements under the Airports Act and Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
• Stakeholder identification and mapping;
• Verification of the 20km radial engagement approach through interrogation of official noise complaint data, mapping complaint clusters and cross-referencing with flight paths (appendix 4);
• Risk analysis workshop (appendix 3).
• Phase 1 (October 2005 – October 2006) – two rounds
- Community focus groups identifying key issues and to test communication materials;
- Self-completion feedback surveys to identify issues and attitudes;
- Random telephone surveys to determine reach, issues and project understanding.
• Phase 2 (March 2007)
- Omnibus survey to test project awareness revealing 68% awareness across all Brisbane.
• Community stakeholders within a 20 km radius of Brisbane Airport, grouped by:
Level 1: Those with an active interest in the issues/project or directly impacted physically, socially, environmentally or financially.
Level 2: Those with an active interest in a specific project-related issue.
Level 3: Those with a general interest in the project, seeking general knowledge.
• Brisbane-based Federal, State and Local Government elected representatives;
• Elected representatives with related portfolio responsibilities;
• Government officers involved in the EIS assessment process;
• Airport tenants, including airlines;
• Environmental groups with an interest in Moreton Bay, climate change and air emissions;
• Key tourism and industry groups;
• BAC staff.
Under the Airports Act BAC was required to implement a PEP to be assessed as part of the EIS/MDP.
BAC set out to exceed statutory requirements and promoted public engagement as a key driver in the EIS process. As a result BWH was appointed to the project’s Core Project Team. The status afforded the public engagement process, was instrumental in the development of a fully-informed, four-phase engagement strategy implemented around milestones including:
• Federal Government’s advertising of the project Terms of Reference;
• The commencement of technical studies for the EIS/MDP;
• The public comment and formal submission period;
• Preparation of the Supplementary EIS/MDP for assessment by the Federal Government.
The umbrella strategy was to communicate early and often with identified stakeholders, providing comprehensive project and process information, while planning for early response to issues.
However, the success of this approach was threatened by critical factors including:
• Extraordinary complexity of aviation technology and terminology;
• Community suspicion of being “purposely confounded by science”;
• Complexity of the statutory processes;
• Widely publicised public outcry against Sydney’s third runway;
• Potential for politicisation;
• Suspicion about the airport privatisation process.
As a result, the strategy for each of the four phases focused on delivering understandable and accurate information conveyed through diverse direct and indirect channels, including close consultation with all levels of government.
BWH also developed supporting strategies including:
• Issues Management
• Risk Management
• Internal Communication
• Government Relations.
Implemented over 22-months, the program utilised traditional methods and innovative tools tailored specifically for the project. (appendix 1)
Project Awareness (August 2005 – October 2006)
• On-line dictionary of aviation terms developed by BWH
• On-line links to other aviation information sources
Raising Awareness and Information Distribution
• NPR project website (appendix 8)
• Community newsletters (appendix 9)
• 102 government stakeholder presentations
• 18 comprehensive fact sheets (appendix 9)
• Extensive advertising (appendix 17)
• Exhibitions and community presentations (appendix 7)
• Media relations (appendix 12)
• Letters to the Editor
• Stakeholder and issue-specific correspondence
• On-Airport displays (appendix 11)
• Translation Services
• Project database (appendix 6)
Widely Advertised Feedback Channels
• 1800 number (appendix 16)
• Reply paid post
• Project email
• Website / on-line feedback
Research (appendix 10)
• Focus groups
• Random telephone surveys
• Feedback forms with newsletters.
Public Comment Period (November 2006 – February 2007)
As above and supplemented by:
• NPR Community Information Centre (appendix 14)
• NPR Community Call Centre (appendix 16)
• Community information sessions (appendix 18)
• Community Service Announcements regarding major project displays
• Database alerts (appendix 6)
• Instructional flyers (appendix 13)
• Community information package for stakeholder database and schools
• Information displays (appendix 15)
• Advertising (appendix 17)
• Additional fact sheets (appendix 9)
• Briefings for directly affected communities (appendix 7).
BWH was involved in the writing, design and production of all public engagement materials including:
• Co-authoring of the Summary of Major Findings (appendix 13);
• The conceptualisation of the Noise Information and Flight Path booklet (appendix 13);
• Concepting, script writing and direction of a DVD outlining project impacts (appendix 13).
The 3,000 page EIS/MPD was a major component in the PEP, with BWH playing an active role in designing its structure as four volumes enabling readers to focus in on topics of specific interest.
The primary goal was to reach and inform stakeholders within the 20 km radius about the project and the opportunity, through the public submission phase, to comment.
Research undertaken at various stages of the engagement program reinforces the success achieved.
• Random telephone surveys undertaken in February 2006 revealed a 58% information reach.
• A similar survey in July 2006 revealed 70% information reach within the target area.
• An AC Neilson Omnibus survey at project completion indicated 68% reach across the Brisbane community of 1,400,000 residents.
Public Comment Period
• Despite connecting with at least 500,000 people about the project, many with an active, potentially hostile, interest in the project, only 196 formal submissions were received.
Quality of the Engagement Program
• The Federal Government acknowledged that the PEP fully met their requirements and accepted the EIS/MDP for technical assessment.
• BAC received numerous letters of thanks and congratulations from elected representatives on the conduct of the PEP.
• Of the 196 submissions received only two criticised the PEP, unprecedented for a project of this size.
1. Exceed the Federal Government’s high expectations for engagement for this complex and controversial project of local community and national political significance.
Process showing acceptance of the robust and inclusive program by accepting the EIS/MDP for assessment.
2. Minimise number of ‘outrage’ –based formal submissions through early contact with stakeholders to satisfy their emotional and informational needs.
3. Satisfy BAC’s commitment to actively engage with stakeholders within a 20 km radius of the Airport.
4. Provide complex information to the community in a variety of formats to meet different information needs.
5. Provide sufficient opportunities/activities for stakeholders to receive information and provide feedback on the EIS/MDP
6. Review and refine engagement strategy based on stakeholder feedback