Without the crowbar

Resistance to real estate projects is increasingly becoming a risk factor for developers and investors. Smart acceptance management pays off.

It was the end of a long fight. At the beginning of this year, investor Christoph Gröner had had enough of the discussions about the conversion of the former Postscheckamt in Berlin-Kreuzberg - he sold his shares. In all these years, he has been "particularly hostile", he tells the daily newspaper "Welt". "We had to listen to tirades about expropriations and were laughed at."

Building has become more challenging. What used to apply to large and noisy infrastructure projects can now become a problem even for office and residential buildings: a lack of acceptance among the population and politicians. If you want to limit the risk of protests and delays, you have to come up with something. Information forums, exhibitions, idea workshops – what was once known from public clients has now also arrived in the private construction industry. No wonder, says Klaus Grewe, an experienced project manager who lives in London: "When it's not tax payers' money that's at stake, but profitability, the risk of supplementary financing is much greater.”

Acceptance management is the be-all and end-all

How conflict-prone a project is depends on many factors, such as use, size, importance for transport and fresh air supply. "Acceptance management is the be-all and end-all, especially for complex project developments," says Rainer Schäfer, Managing Director of Strabag Real Estate. "In the past, more was accepted. Today we have a participation culture.

The industry is preparing for this. Last year, communication scientists from the University of Hohenheim, together with the Wikopreventk consultancy, surveyed the heads of 97 major German and Austrian projects (total investment volume 85 billion euros). After all, half of them had a complete communication concept with information events, press conferences, visualisations and websites. 82 percent stated that this had clearly or partially objectified the discussion; for 64 percent the acceptance of the project had risen.

From the viewpoint of study leader Professor Frank Brettschneider it was absolutely clear: almost three quarters rated the benefits of communication higher than the costs. "That the project managers themselves see this in such a way was often denied in the past.“

Best case: "Dancing Towers" in Hamburg

Strabag managing director Schäfer can share some of his own experiences about this. When his company wanted to build the "Dancing Towers", two office buildings 75 and 85 metres high, on the Hamburg Kiez a few years ago, the residents were initially not very enthusiastic – until they learned that the concept would include a revival of the legendary Mojo Club. Schäfer: "That satisfied the scene."

The developer put a lot of effort into this. The club is located in the basement, visitors enter it via hydraulic floor hatches, the floor swings on huge suspensions. Schäfer admits that the rent does not compensate for the high production costs. "But due to the trouble-free construction process, the cost worked out for us overall."

How to calculate the communications budget

The Association of German Engineers (VDI) recommends a communications budget of one percent of the project volume for infrastructure projects. The recommendation is probably not generally applicable. In the opinion of construction manager Grewe, the point is rather that a developer should be aware of the risks of objections and delays. Then it is easier to decide how high the budget should be. "One thing is clear: the more expensive the project, the higher the cost of delays." However, too much of a good thing can also get in the way. An "endless participation process" can first awaken needs and increase demands.

Michaela Rehle / Thyssen Krupp

The key: Reason and listening

Reason and listening can even create a win-win situation. When Thyssenkrupp wanted to construct a 232-metre-high test tower for lifts in Rottweil, Swabia, the citizens wanted a public viewing platform. After a moment of shock, the Group got fond of the idea. Today the tower is a tourist magnet. Daimler's testing and technology centre in Immendingen is also regarded as a showcase project. When it came to nature conservation and compensation measures, the Group involved regional experts who had appointed organisations such as Nabu and BUND. The project manager at the time, Lothar Ulsamer, describes the process as follows: "From Mission Impossible to Success Story."

Title image: Jörg Modrow / Laif

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