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Greater impact for subsurface projects

If the initiators of subsurface projects fail to take sufficient account of the interests of other stakeholders in the surrounding area, their plans can be seriously delayed or even become impossible. TNO advises initiators on how to generate public support and achieve greater impact.

The subsurface is increasingly playing a role in solving issues relating to energy, mobility, agriculture, water management and spatial planning. Examples include underground transport, groundwater buffering, the construction of underground car parks and the harvesting of geothermal heat. These are projects whose purpose is usually undisputed, but it often takes time and effort to realise them, and in some cases they can't be realised at all. One cause of the problems is that the initiators have given too little consideration to the characteristics of the project location itself, its surrounding area and the interests of others. Hanneke Puts of TNO: "Our research shows that they are often preoccupied with understanding processes in the subsurface or with the technical aspects of the project design, and they don't appear to pay a great deal of attention to the actual project location or the stakeholders that will have to deal with the consequences."

Collaboration

'In coorperation with Erasmus University Rotterdam, AT Osborne and DCMR Rijnmond (the environmental protection agency of local and regional authorities in the Rijnmond region), and commissioned by Netherlands Centre for Soil Quality Management and Knowledge Transfer (SKB), TNO analysed over 50 projects within the SKB Programme 'Sustainable Development of the Subsurface' (SKB-DOO), with a focus on how the projects took account of the characteristics of the surrounding area and the interests involved. Puts: "We analysed quite a few situations in practice and saw that often there was only minimal cooperation with parties who are not directly involved in the project but are faced with the consequences. It's not only the physical characteristics of a location that determine what's possible and permissible, but also the people who live, work and run businesses there. If they have the impression that their interests and ambitions have not been sufficiently considered, they may dig their heels in. If you involve them, you can gain their support and realise a project with a good local fit that benefits others."

Social business case

TNO has developed 'principles for governance' that will increase the chances of initiators gaining support for their plans. Puts: 'To make these principles more practical, we developed three questions: what are the characteristics of the project area or location?, what are the interests of other relevant stakeholders?, who do I need to realise my plans? They're obvious questions, but often they're not asked, and that leads to problems. The answers to the questions enable initiators to design projects more effectively, achieve their goals and create a situation that adds value for stakeholders in the vicinity." Former Programme Manager Arno Peekel of SKB: "The analysis enriches our programme on sustainable development of the subsurface. These 'principles for governance' bring new insights through which we are better equipped to support our partners in changing and improving common practices towards a sustainable development of the subsurface." And Puts: "TNO would like to apply these principles in new situations and is happy to support initiators in developing successful projects."

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