Hardly a day goes by without me either hearing or mentioning the term “multiple benefits” in conversations about improving our rivers. Is it the latest big thing or just a case of reinventing the wheel? I think it is somewhere in between: taking an established common sense approach to achieving shared aims and using it in a new area of our work.
So what are multiple benefits and why are they important?
It is really simple, so don’t let people blind you with science. You achieve all or some of what you want for an efficient application of resources. By working with others they get the same deal. So a scheme, project, campaign or whatever gets a better return on investment for everyone. In its simplest form, think of that old chestnut of utility companies all taking it in turns to dig up the road for their work. Each of them has to pay individually to dig a trench and fill it in again as well as causing repeated disruption to the area. If they link up and work together they reduce costs, achieve their aims and keep local communities happier with less disruption.
But why apply this thinking to improving our rivers?
I make no apology for raising the obvious issue that publicly funded organisations just don’t have the resources to go it alone these days. This can be seen as a bad thing, but the real positive is that we need to work in partnership and achieve more for each pound spent. This in turn makes us more open, transparent and responsive to the needs of local communities and other stakeholders. We no longer decide what we are going to do because “we know best”. We are far more flexible in how we achieve the outcome and what it looks like. That can only be a good thing and it is something that we need to harness.
Also we need to make sure that when we improve rivers that we do it in a way that local communities want and that complements rather than compromises other uses or needs. Some of the projects we are working on are designed to kick start a process that will need to be supported into the future, so getting this buy-in is essential. We want people to be reconnected to their environment, to access it and enjoy it. So let’s (for example) get public open space, a new nature reserve and reduce flood risk to downstream communities at the same time as breathing life into our rivers. A well thought out, joined up scheme can achieve all of these aims and more.
More broadly, these community based projects can offer training and skills development and ultimately help people back into work or to progress in their career. We work with local charities and volunteer organisations so money we spend can stay in the local area to make a real difference.
What am I doing to make this happen?
I am working closely with colleagues developing local flood schemes, looking at broader community benefits that can improve the environment for people and wildlife at the same time as reducing flood risk. We are also mapping where we would like to see river improvements, sharing this information with others and looking at where our interests overlap. We have already identified areas that are at risk of surface flooding where we may be able to include measures that address this at the same time as improving the river Chelmer/ I will soon be able to share more details about some of these schemes to give a better idea of what can be achieved.
Keep listening for opportunities
I think this is the most important thing of all. You need to be talking (and especially listening) to anyone who has an interest that could complement or compromise what you need to achieve. The Catchment Partnerships in Combined Essex, South Essex and the Roding, Beam & Ingrebourne are fast becoming the place where people are networking, forging new links and making things happen. Check out the Essex Rivers Hub web site to learn more about what is going on across Essex.
Until the next time.