The Single Conversation Group was established in 2013 as a first-in-the-nation pilot to bring together key regional stakeholders involved in the planning and development process to discuss major projects and investments across the Humber. It serves as a forum for informal consultation between stakeholders at both the pre-planning stage, through to the the delivery of projects. The group is made up of representatives from the four local authorities, Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, as well as a number of statutory agencies and utilities companies, including Highways England, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Yorkshire Water, Northern Powergrid, Homes England and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Meeting every two months, the group works through a list of major projects at various stages of planning and development across the region. Major investment projects are assisted through this mechanism to ensure they are delivered as effectively as possible by ironing out issues in the planning or consenting systems as quickly as practical.
An example of a project where the Single Conversation Group has made a positive difference is the replacement of the Phillips 66 Tetney Pipeline in 2016. Immingham based oil refinery Phillips 66 had a narrow window of just 60 days during which the Humber Refinery would close for maintenance, allowing for the replacement of the offshore pipeline which connects the monobouy in the Humber (where tankers offload oil) to the onshore pipeline which transports it to the refinery itself. This was a hugely complex regulatory undertaking, involving the need to secure permits and permissions from a range of stakeholders, including the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency, to undertake work across an area with important environmental protections. The work of the Single Conversation Group facilitated quicker and better-informed working between the stakeholders involved, allowing for a time sensitive project to be delivered on schedule.
One of the primary drivers behind the group’s creation was concern around the barriers to investment presented by the unique environmental designations and protections of the Humber Estuary. The LEP, whilst mindful of the vital need to protect and enhance the Humber’s natural environment and habitats, also has a responsibility to promote investment and development across the region. Conscious of this, the Single Conversation Group helps to bridge the divides that grow between on the one hand, investors and developers keen to push ahead with projects, and on the other, statutory consultees such as Natural England and the Environment Agency with legal obligations to protect the natural environment and ensure that new developments appropriately mitigate or compensate against their environmental impacts.
Recently, the Single Conversation Group has worked to develop a more strategic approach to the issue of environmental mitigation and compensation. At present, if a development comes forward that might displace a protected species from its habitat, or degrade the natural environment, developers need to identify land to mitigate for this or compensate against it. This can often delay projects, or lead to significant cost and resource challenges, thus acting as a barrier to investment. The strategic approach being developed on the Humber seeks to proactively identify sites across the region that might be utilised to mitigate for or compensate against future developments. As and when projects come forward, they could ‘buy in’ to these pre-identified sites, incentivising investment whilst ensuring the Humber’s environment is protected and enhanced.
Read about the Single Conversation Group’s members here.