As I prepare to stand down as leader of East Sussex County Council, I can celebrate two victories over scare mongering protestors; one several years ago in relation to building an incinerator and just recently final Government approval and funding for a new road to link the towns of Bexhill and Hastings.
Both projects involved long and complex consultation, planning, public enquiry and court processes and both ignited a storm of protest from so-called environmentalists. The incinerator gave us protestors climbing up cranes and our short (3.5 mile) new road has so far seen them camping up in trees and holes in the ground. Both projects bring great advantages to our communities; the incinerator means effectively 90% recycling and electricity for 25,000 homes while the road will drive regeneration through the construction of 2,000 houses and new business parks providing at least 3000 jobs.
Our latest road project is the first of a hundred plus schemes nationwide to start construction and so has become the focus for a vicious campaign of opposition by anti-road groups, mostly peopled from outside our area. They have targeted us presumably to try and undermine the determination of others as well as trying to stop us. As with the incinerator, we have so far been able to defeat the antis latest antics
and would be happy to share our experiences with others who are yet to start their projects.
The essence of our message is that there are no short cuts to success; that you have to be meticulous at every stage in the process of consultation, planning and public enquiry procedure because you will
almost certainly have to defend your actions as a result of judicial review or other court challenges.
You need to recognise that you will be up against well-funded and legally advised groups with huge "protest" experience who will use any local opponents of your scheme as a front.
A few key points include:
1. Clear and consistent leadership from politicians and professionals – designate one/two spokesmen and remember the old Tammany Hall mantra of "say it simple and say it often". We have won overwhelming local support which must be disheartening our opponents.
2. Use the best in-house and external expertise especially when it comes to security of sites and people; work closely with your police partners
3. Endorsement from others – business, voluntary, community and other external groups – is worth many times what you can say.
4. Be prepared for personal threats and nuisance calls/letters/e-mails and all manner of unpleasant tactics but stay within the law because the minute you don't your opponents will exploit that to your great
If you are beginning to wish you hadn't started your scheme don't lose heart; you know that it makes huge sense and that it is what your population need and want – isn't that why you came into public life anyway?
Good luck and call us if you want to hear more of our experiences so far.