AT THE Tasmanian Energy Development Conference in Devonport this month, I was part of a forum discussing the need for social licence before undertaking a project. The concept of social licence is an interesting thing. It is something that cannot be physically attained and seems to have rules that shift and change.

As someone old enough to have lived through the two pulp mill debates, you could argue that the second project addressed the concerns expressed about the first. However, “social licence” was still not able to be achieved. With the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps Gunns’ removal of the project from the then-RPDC process which destroyed overall public confidence in the project.

A loud and organised minority grew and eventually made the project a greater economic risk for potential financiers than they were prepared to take. Almost on a daily basis, we now read about the contentious Mt Wellington cable car proposal. Regular polls signal that the majority of those surveyed – more than 70 per cent – want a cable car. But again, an organised and vocal group will never allow the cable car to proceed. Can “social licence” ever be won under these circumstances?

On a more positive note, it has been exciting to see the proponents of the Robbins Island wind farm being open and amenable to change with regard to its power-line path.

There’s a long way to go, but the overall project – pumping 1000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500,000 homes, from Tasmania’s North West Coast to the mainland – is critical to the state’s future. This becomes an extremely interesting issue from a developer’s perspective.

How can you achieve a project that garners the support of the community?

How can you outweigh the negative voices that are not necessarily worried about truth or accuracy of comments?

They are simply trying to achieve an end outcome, in which they believe passionately. I believe that there are a few fundamentals that make winning social licence much more achievable.

  • Early and honest communication with the community.

Take time and help those impacted by the development to have a voice and to be able to truly influence the development.

  • Be prepared to give some ground to achieve a more palatable outcome for the community.

At the end of the day with most developments there will be winners and losers. How can you limit the losses for those impacted?

  • Most importantly engage and unlock local businesses.

How can your development use local resources? How can your tenders be of a scale that suits local business? What capacity work do you need to under-take with local business to ensure that they are able to be a part of your project.

  • Have a clear vision for what the development means for the community that you can articulate easily and simply.

We are at an exciting time in Tasmania with many projects across industry areas planned. We need to ensure that they get to fruition and achieving social licence is key in this endeavour.