You had me at DCO: my NIPA story

7 November 2022

Ben Copithorne
Managing Director at Camargue

I’m a big fan of the Development Consent Order (DCO) process. I’ll tell you why. It gives everyone a voice, it provides a process and it delivers a result. It enables us to get things done. That’s clearly important when we’re talking about nationally-needed infrastructure and building the facilities we all rely upon.

I’m a communicator first and foremost and this is my NIPA story.

When I left university I had language skills and a curiosity for the built environment. I’d studied classics but, don’t worry, I didn’t want to build temples or villas, I wanted to do something where I felt I could contribute to a tangible outcome in the modern world. I thought I might be able to add value by writing about that, structuring arguments and marshalling information – the core skills my university course had taught me.

Some 25 years later I’m proud to be a part of NIPA and a member of the NIPA Council. I’ve had the good fortune to work on a number of substantial infrastructure projects from rail freight terminals to gas pipelines – plus a whole range of complex regeneration schemes outside of the DCO regime but sharing a good deal of common ground.

Each and every one has taught me something new and each and every one has had its own distinct culture and team. But they all arrive at the same place – the funnel that is the Examination process and, ultimately, a decision to build or not to build.

That’s what gives me the most satisfaction. In communications, there can sometimes be a feeling that ‘it’s words without outcomes’. Some people I speak to who work in the industry struggle with the lack of consequence for certain campaigns or the products they’re promoting on behalf of their clients.

I’ve never found that. With national infrastructure determined by national need, we’re always talking about things we know we have to have – as a society and as individuals. I want to benefit from resilient power, an effective transport network, the waste and water resources I need, and all of the other elements of the infrastructure jigsaw for a civilised and progressive society.

When my team and I work on DCOs we always champion the importance of clarity of message, respect for all audiences, empathy for every community, and a ‘solutions finding’ mindset within the project team. This means everything we do during consultation feeds into the submitted scheme. It means that every conversation, every interview, every stakeholder discussion, and every public exhibition has purpose.

Of course, we know there are challenges involved and it’s not all rosy in the garden – sometimes the response to a scheme within a community is heated. National need cannot always overcome local anxiety or concern. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the frontline.

But the DCO process is designed for and allows for this. It means everyone can have their say and that, within a structured process of evaluation and consideration of need versus impact, a decision can be arrived at.

Added to that, the benefit of NIPA is the sharing of stories and experiences. The ability to talk to others about issues you may be facing and to draw on the counsel of colleagues. NIPA is a great ‘strength and stay’ to borrow a phrase.

What’s my point? It’s this. If you’re a communicator thinking of how you can apply your skills in a future career, the satisfaction you can get from doing that within the world of development and DCOs is substantial. If you’re a recent graduate or someone finding your steps into your career, you can do a lot worse than looking at the communications and consultation that wraps around national infrastructure to find a fulfilling place to apply your skills. If you’re someone who likes to work in a team to achieve a tangible outcome, having the responsibility to tell the story of a future infrastructure project is pretty cool.

Then marry that up with the collective benefit you can get from being part of the NIPA family and you’re really starting to go places. NIPA will give you access to other professionals and a place to learn and to share. It will help you in ways you may not be able to predict.

My job is bigger than DCOs and I have a portfolio of B2B/corporate clients alongside the work I do supporting development at DCO and the local level. I love all of that.

But it’s NIPA that brings the benefit in terms of a place to talk, to share and to compare. I’ve been a member for several years and I would recommend it to anyone.

Last word: why get excited about DCOs? For me, it’s for all the reasons I’ve touched on in this story. It’s because they give a communications professional a place to do things with purpose and value in every sense of those two words. For those of us focused on delivering the communications and consultation pieces of the process, I’d re-define the acronym.

I like the process because it includes ‘Dialogue, Consideration and Outcome’.

A DCO project welcomes all contributions but will arbitrate to a place of decision-making. It requires and respects opinions but it will arrive at a judgement. And what comes as a consequence of that decision will be something physical and tangible, something that we all need, and something which I’m always pleased to play a part in providing.