A consultation process dedicated to the bypass project of the Donges refinery
A long-awaited railway bypass
In Donges, which is situated in the Loire-Atlantique region, the Nantes-Le Croisic line travels through the very heart of a 350 hectare industrial site which includes a refinery (Total Refining France), a filling centre for liquiefied petroleum gas (Antargaz) and a fuel storage depot (SFDM). Every day about 60 passenger and freight trains travel through this industrial site. Fourteen of these trains stop at the railway station which is located in the immediate vicinity of the industrial site.
In order to move train traffic away from this Seveso-classified industrial site, Total Refining France and SNCF Réseau are considering the possibility of diverting the railway line and moving the railway stop in the near future.
The aims of this project are the following :
- Reducing the exposure to industrial hazards
- Ensuring the long-term future of the refinery and adjoining sites
- Improving railway service in Donges
Such a large project cannot be be conducted without the active participation of all the stakeholders involved. Julie Taldir, Head of the Consultation department and External Relations at SNCF Réseau, explains: “Consultation is vital and fulfills a commitment to dialogue. It takes place at every key stage of the project so that specific points can be debated until the implementation of the project.”
“Consultation is vital and fulfills a commitment to dialogue”
23 September 2015 – 1st public meeting
All residents of Donges were invited. The press publicized this event and an information brochure with a reply coupon was distributed in the post boxes of neighbouring residents so that they could express their opinions and ask any questions they might have. An Internet web site was also created and an information exhibition was organised in the Town Hall of Donges.
Alix Lecadre, Head of Institutional Relations and Consultation at the SNCF Réseau Regional Division of Brittany-Loire, is at the very heart of the consultation process. In collaboration with the Operations Director, she has defined the key steps required to ensure that this approach is as efficient as possible.
She explains: “This public meeting Donges was an important step in the process. After several years of uncertainty regarding the implementation of this project, an official public position was finally taken.” Approximately 500 persons attended this meeting which involved a presentation of the project and the two possible railway paths and railway stop locations.
Alix Lecadre adds that “SNCF Réseau is firmly committed to providing clear and quality information on its projects so that meeting participants have all the information necessary for a complete understanding of the issue.” For SNCF Réseau, the consultation process extends far beyond top-down information and is considered as a support for decision-making. The railway operator uses the opinions and proposals expressed by the local stakeholders to assist it in its decision-making. She goes on to say: “However, a public meeting is not really the most conducive event for exchanging opinions as there are many people in attendance and many of them are reluctant to speak in public in this type of situation. This is why we organise thematic workshops. So that everyone can express his or her opinion.”
“SNCF Réseau is firmly committed to providing clear and quality information”
7 October 2015 – 1st workshop
As the participants arrived at the Les Guifettes meeting room, which is located in the town of Donges, Claude Chardonnet, the moderator from the C&S Conseils consultancy, welcomed about 40 persons interested in this form of participatory democracy. In addition to the moderator, the following speakers were present:
- Guillaume Bedel, Project Director at SNCF Réseau
- Arnaud Godart, Head of the Network Design department
- Virginie Fioro, Head of Environment
- Yves Maël Uguen, Project Manager
- Michel Périgord, Consultation Guarantor
The role of the Consultation Guarantor
The Guarantor is independent and impartial. He/she ensures the quality and sincerity of the information which is provided and also that the opinions of the participants are taken into account. He/she is bound by professional secrecy for a period of 5 years and does not express any opinion on the project in question.
After everyone was seated and had been served a coffee or refreshment, Guillaume Bedel gave a detailed presentation of the two railway and road paths (road upgrade works would be necessary for Departmental Roads 4 and 100) as well as the two locations for the railway stops, all of which were based on preliminary technical studies.
Reactions to these proposals were not long in coming. There were a host of questions and opinions from many people:
- An elected official of Donges asked whether there was still a choice possible between the two options. SNCF Réseau representatives confirmed that the choice was still open and that the steering committee would make its final decision based on the result of the consultation process.
- A resident highlighted the concern of those living nearby, and asked for details about the compensation measures planned for them and about the technical studies.
- Another resident wanted to know whether it had been planned to release the results of the impact and noise pollution studies. SNCF Réseau replied that as part of its ongoing consultation process, the results of the acoustic studies would be the subject of a future public meeting.
“A fine example of participatory democracy”
Three hours later the workshop ended. Guillaume Bedel thanked all those who participated and reminded everyone about the next three upcoming workshops and the information days on 13 and 23 October. A summary of the four workshops would be publicly released in addition to any replies that could not be provided directly during the meetings with the public.
Four thematic workshops
To enable participants to address specific points in detail, four distinct workshops were organised:
- One workshop dedicated to neighbouring residents and environmental associations
- One workshop reserved for companies with a link to the project
- One workshop dedicated to refinery employees
- One workshop devoted to farmers
Thanks to this meeting, the consultation process was strengthened and issues were examined in more detail. Everyone was able to speak and put forwards his/her ideas. Guillaume Bedel says: “The neighbouring residents asked many questions about noise pollution, landscape improvements and road transport upgrades. These are legitimate concerns to which we were able to respond in part only. However, we will get back to them with additional information as there are no ready made answers. Every question deserves a precise answer.”
Julie Taldir stresses that the consultation process is also the opportunity to study other alternatives and examine certain issues in greater detail. These points could then become the basis for additional independent expert assessments. “When these points arise sufficiently early in the consultation process, they contribute to the joint construction of the project and to its relevance.”
Thanks to these workshops, the consultation process was strengthened and issues were examined in more detail”
Upcoming steps prior to the Declaration of Public Utility
While the workshops represent an important phase, they are by no means the last stage of the consultation process. Alex Cadre continues: “A new public meeting was organised on 19 April to present the choice of the railway path and location of the train stop to the residents, based on the conclusions of the consultation. As a continuation of this process, more meetings will be organised to discuss other points in greater detail, for example landscape improvements, visual and noise pollution, etc.”
Thanks to all this preparatory work, the study will then reach the stage of the Declaration of Public Utility (DPU). Guillaume Bedel concludes: “The DPU is a mandatory administrative procedure for all infrastructure upgrades on private land. It is the last stage before the start of the works and in particular authorises expropriations for reasons of public utility. This is why it is so important to obtain a real consensus on this project!”
SNCF Réseau has been conducting this policy of consultation, which is based on dialogue and exchange, for more than 15 years. It is applied to all projects being developed by the company and has profoundly changed project management and human resources management. Consultation is now an integral part of many activities of the company. Depending on the local issues in question, consultation specialists have been recruited for the local projects to provide support to the relevant railway staff in defining and managing their consultation process.
A real culture of dialogue with the stakeholders and general public
- Public debates are organised under the auspices of the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP)
- Consultation Guarantors are appointed by the CNDP to ensure that the dialogue will continue after the completion of the public debates. For projects which do not have public debates, the Consultation Guarantors are appointed by the project’s steering committee.
- SNCF Réseau adopted a Charter for Conducting Consultations (in 2011)