Alt Crossens is a major drainage area between the Mersey and Ribble estuaries. It contains some of the UK’s most fertile agricultural land, supporting 2,500 farming jobs - and many more in the local food and horticulture sectors – worth an estimated £230 million per annum to the local economy.
Water management in this area, more typical of the East Anglian Fenland, is essential to prevent the lowest lying areas from returning to marshland. The situation is complicated by the number of stakeholders involved, the difficulty of obtaining agreement between different interests, and the Environment Agency’s (EA) need to reduce spend in Alt Crossens by £1 M per annum.
A partnership approach, based on a commonly agreed plan for the future and sharing of cost and responsibility, is fundamental to resolving these issues.
Central to the solution was Accelerated Collaboration, a technique developed by Royal HaskoningDHV and Green Ventures.
The EA took the lead, setting up a Partnership Working Group (PWG). Royal HaskoningDHV worked through the PWG to develop a consensus around current system functions and current and future challenges.
This began by identifying key partners, ensuring their buy-in, engagement and awareness. Royal HaskoningDHV facilitated the collection and alignment of data from all parties, including internal EA departments and 10 other partner organisations
They applied structured principles, standardising and then digitising a vast amount of material, from maps to sensor data. From these they created a live base model, or visualisation platform, allowing interactive presentation of different geographies: drainage areas, catchments, land interests, assets. This contributed significantly to wider stakeholder and public engagement.
A series of Accelerated Collaboration workshops were delivered on behalf of the PWG and its Advisory Group of local politicians. This defined the Accelerated Collaboration programme, produced agreement on the issues involved, the options to be considered and obtained buy-in to a common methodology and roadmap.
The result was a plan supported by key partners, and with accessible materials that could be presented to wider stakeholders and other funders.
The Accelerated Collaboration process delivered objectives ahead of their deadlines on an issue that had been becoming intractable.
This was greatly helped by the visualisation tool, which proved a powerful way to build a common understanding of the challenges based on commonly agreed hard evidence.
Partners are also using accelerated collaboration visualisations and website to engage with others; e.g. NFU taking it to landowners, EA using to talk to Council leads. The proposed future arrangements for Alt Crossens went to public consultation in January 2014 using the materials created during the project.