Bringing lasting community benefit into business case planning

When examining the business case for new local infrastructure, it’s crucial that every pound spent should deliver sustainable benefits to the local community, says Paul Hammond.

What epitomises delivery of new infrastructure? Perhaps for the general public it would be when the ribbon is cut by dignitaries on opening day. Or, further back in the timeline, the day the ground is broken and activity begins on site. But for those of us who take the longer view, the key milestone in successful infrastructure occurs long before this – a largely hidden step which ensures that every pound spent delivers sustainable benefits to the local community, and that investment can be secured from public or private backers. 

This refers to the all-important business case, which can be summed up perfectly in Shakespeare’s King John, “Strong reasons make strong actions”. In fact, the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Knowsley is a great example of a project that required a strong business case process. The project requires improvements to Prescot train station that will help to accommodate people travelling to and from the new Playhouse and provide a welcoming visitor experience to the town. The improvements include parking and cycling infrastructure and wayfinding, as well as high-quality public realm improvements from the station to the boundary of the new playhouse development.

The infrastructure plans focused on making the most of audience footfall, predicted to be over 100,000 a year, increasing town centre dwell time in retail and evening economy and in turn generating local employment. The developments would lead to unused land in the town centre becoming attractive propositions to new businesses, and markets and public events could now be staged.

Several steps need to be taken when assessing the business case for a project like this. The iterative process begins with the client’s strategic goals and the obstacles hindering the delivery of them. Genuinely considering all infrastructure options and objectively appraising their impact against delivery costs is at the heart of the process. This ensures that there are less questions such as “how big should the bridge be?” or “how many lanes should our new road have?” but “what investment will best help this section of our constituency?” or, as in the case of Prescot, “how can we secure the future prosperity of our town centre?”.

"Several steps need to be taken when assessing the business case for a project like this but genuinely considering all infrastructure options and objectively appraising their impact against delivery costs is at the heart of the process."

The process then goes on to question whether the funding and commercial models stack-up, and whether the programme is deliverable to acceptable levels of risk. Appropriate detail emerges in each of these areas as the process develops from outline to full business case.

As with all public infrastructure projects, clear thinking about how the investment will deliver measurable benefits in line with bigger picture strategic regeneration is key. Far from merely providing ‘concrete and steel’, all organisations involved in delivering infrastructure have a significant role to play in creating a future society that is economically prosperous, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. There is no room in Prescot for white elephants.

Knowsley Council is delivering the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot. Construction work started in spring and it is expected to open its doors in 2021. A virtual reality model of the playhouse has also been developed and demonstrated at international exhibitions. Following the approval of the streetscape funding package, Mott MacDonald colleagues are progressing with the detailed design of the various scheme elements. As visitors to Prescot will soon hear from the stage: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Paul Hammond is an integrated transport executive at Mott MacDonald.

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