1.3 Developing a path management plan
Once it has been established that an upland path project needs to be developed, it is important to produce a plan encompassing all aspects of building the project. If an effective plan is in place at the start the path manager will have the tools necessary to foresee and offset many of the pitfalls of upland path management. This is because most of the difficult and frustrating problems that arise in project delivery are a direct result of poor planning. Practical pathwork in itself is all about effective problem solving within given environmental and physical constraints, and this process is at its best as a creative action between the path manager, the client and the team. As such there are in theory no barriers to what can be achieved with the right project team in place, as motivated people will enjoy working effectively together for a shared goal, and this in itself is a rewarding and creative process.
However, non-technical problems that arise from poor planning can be crippling for the project team. If economic, political or financial issues have not been dealt with at the offset, if there are a lack of technical skills available or if there are insurmountable health and safety issues then your project may well founder and team morale will be poor.
Raising project support
Having established the rationale for carrying through the project, it is important to bring to bear the appropriate support for your project.
- Smaller independent charities may well have a board of directors or trustees representing a number of different interests, and it is important that these players understand and support the project, as this will undoubtedly add credence and clout to the development of the project.
- Larger charities may work across a wide range of disciplines, and if so it is important to show senior management and members in governance that your project fits well into the aims and objectives of the organisation.
- Local Authorities and statutory bodies will have well-defined objectives, and an enormous range of prioritised activities to develop and deliver. You must be able to demonstrate that your project is of value and addresses some of these priorities.
- Community projects require public support from representative members of the wider public, and whilst it can be difficult to get consensus across a wide range of interests, if support can be established at the outset it will surely ease the development, and later on the delivery, of the project.
The easiest way to do this may be by way of an outline project plan, a board paper, or an options paper outlining the rationale for the project, outline costs and an indication of how the project can be delivered. It will be particularly useful if you show where finance can be sourced.
Steering the project
Once support has been established, it may well be possible to set up a committee or steering group to assist in the development of the project. You will almost certainly need to be at least conversant in the core skills for project planning, but expert support will add a great deal to your project, helping you develop your own skills, and adding weight to the proposal. Key skill areas that may be required include:
- Chairing of meetings: Concensus does not always come easily, and even with a highly supportive group it is important to produce a strong chair that will push for action from the other members and structure meetings in a productive manner.
- Finance: A vital part of any upland project is a good financial plan, as this is one of the readily identifiable measures of project feasability. Income and expenditure should be readily identified, and accountancy input will greatly assist in the complexities of project building and delivery, including potentially complicated variables such as the treatment of Value Added Tax and project contingencies.
- Economic: A good understanding of economic process and market forces will add viability and credence to an upland path project, particularly if economic benefits form part of the project justification. The greater the transparency of economic justification, the more likely you are to hit your target.
- Marketing: These skills will be invaluable if you wish to demonstrate added value to your project via increased usage as a result of your project.
- Cognate: Expert assistance from a technical or political mentor with expertise in the key area of project may be invaluable, particularly if there is a lack of built-in technical expertise in the proposed project staff.
- Grant administration: The project plan may hinge on attracting a grant or support from one or a number of sources. Expert support in the area of grant raising will assist your proposal greatly in matching the awarding bodies core criteria.
- Fund raising: Expertise in this area will be particularly valuable if you wish to raise public appeal funding as part of the delivery of the project and/or aftercare.
- User groups: Representation from one or more of the key user groups that your project will affect will be vital, and can provide an invaluable perspective on design and market.
- Community liaison: Always a valuable skill, this will be of particular value where projects seek to harness or deliver local community aspirations through upland pathwork.
- Land ownership: Representation from the landowner(s) involved may well be a real asset to project development. It may be necessary to obtain legally binding access agreements spanning a period of time, and some landowners may be reluctant to sign up to these. Positive encouragement from a neighbouring landowner may well provide reassurance.
An effective and helpful steering group will do more than just expect reports: its members will roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, lending support and expert advice within their own sphere. The group should help develop the plan, and present it to the relevant bodies for support.
There are a growing number of potential sponsors for path projects, as more organisations see that path work may meet some of their objectives. Some of the organisations that have lent financial support include:
- Scottish Natural Heritage: which has countryside access and protection of the natural heritage as reasons to get involved. There are very few, if any, upland path initiatives that have not had SNH involvement.
- Local enterprise companies: are becoming increasingly involved in countryside projects, and access projects may target some of their key areas of interest, particularly with economic and skills development through tourism and other related projects.
- Scottish Mountaineering Trust: SMT has contributed numerous invaluable grants to specific Upland Path projects.
- Local authorities: may be attracted to projects that show strong social or economic benefits, and that allow them to fulfil statutory obligations
- European development funding: Projects that address structural and skills development, particularly in economically and/or peripherally disadvantaged areas, may well qualify for EU funding from a number of sources.
- Lottery funding: If heritage, community and/or sports development is involved it may be possible to target this source of funding.
- Corporate sponsorship: This may be applicable if it is possible to generate interest through corporate association with your project. The National Trust for Scotland has good experience of this through Royal Bank of Scotland sponsorship on Ben Lomond.
- Public appeal: It may be possible to raise public appeal if this is viable. Useful and effective marketing should tell you what is possible to raise from this source. Always build in development costs to this source of funding as it may be costly and if the appeal is unsuccessful, may leave a deficit. Never forget that your appeal will face competition from an ever-growing number of sources. Much as the project may be a consuming passion to you, you may have to accept that a starvation appeal, or one for research into life-threatening illness, may well carry a heavier priority in most people’s hearts.
The project plan
Once the level of interest has been established the steering group put in place, and the funding bodies targeted, it may well be necessary to develop a more detailed project or business plan. This should not be seen as an unwanted piece of hoop jumping, but rather will provide the opportunity to fully develop the plan and test it for robustness and viability against a disciplined set of criteria.
There are a swathe of differing methods of drawing up a path project plan, and the techniques and format used will vary dependent on the individual involved, the organisation carrying out the work, and the type and scale of project. Nevertheless the key issues that must be addressed are the same for any upland path project, from conception through development to delivery and project aftercare. As a path manager you must put aside the time to fully understand the implications of the project and anticipate the possible outcomes.
The project should have clear and transparent aims and objectives at the outset. Providing a summary at the start of the document will bring the project into focus for the target audience. It may well be easier to write this having gone through the disciplined process of developing a detailed project plan. This may sound strange, but you should have a more clearly structured understanding of the issues addressed by the project having gone through the discipline of presenting the information within the project plan!
Why do you want to build or repair an upland footpath?
It may be innately obvious to you that the work is needed, particularly if you come from an informed technical or user group viewpoint. However, this may not necessarily be so clear to the other individuals and organisations you wish to address, so a clearly written piece explaining the range of benefits of your project, and how these fit into the organisation’s objectives, will be very useful, particularly for potential funding bodies. If the project has heritage values then establish those clearly. If there are economic or social benefits then be clear as to what these are, and how they will be measured. Try not to overstate the strengths of your project as this may adversely affect the credibility of your stronger points.
What will your project achieve?
This will give you the chance to give a detailed breakdown of exactly what the project is about. The brief should always be precise and succinct, as items that are not understood will most likely be questioned, and may not inspire confidence. This is a chance to explain the real benefits of your project:
- why it is unique;
- the range of benefits;
- how much work will be done;
- how it will be measured;
- what will happen after the project has finished.
Planning the project team
How will you achieve your project targets?
This part will show the make-up of the project team, and address the issues of quality assurance, in terms of level and quantity of outputs. You will be expected to show that there are sufficient skills within the project team, and if not that there will be room for those skills to be developed over the period of the project. Will the project staff come from existing people within the organisation, or will the project require additional specialist staff to be brought in? If the latter is the case, you should consider what skills you would wish them to have and develop, and setting out job plans and a management diagram at this stage may well be a useful and informative practice.
- Project Management: who will take the lead role for delivering the project? And what skills will they have? Some organisations find it useful to bring in a manager with strong technical skills. The advantages of this will include a bottom up knowledge of the project, the ability to develop detailed surveys, and an informed approach as to the appropriate standards for site management. However there may not be many individuals with these skills that also have the management profile that you wish to develop and plan the project. Many organisations have chosen to take on managers without technical skills, and have brought in specialist surveying and contract supervision from the private sector as and when needed. It should be noted that this assumes that those skills will be available.
- Project Design: It may be that you have the design skills within the management team, if not it will be useful to bring in suitably qualified and experienced individuals to provide the design and specification surveys. There are a small number of individuals with these skills within Scotland at this time, and there is a UPAG-recognised SVQ in surveying which should lend quality assurance to the project. Your rationale will directly inform the design, as the path should be fit for purpose. If you wish to bring in a technical expert to provide design then be absolutely clear in the brief as to what are the design considerations.
- Project Administration and Support: It may be possible for larger organisations to tap into existing support structures to help run the project. If not it may well be valuable to bring in specialist staff to assist in this area of work.
- Project Workers: Are their sufficient-skilled workers available to carry out the path work itself? There is a well established Level 2 SVQ in pathwork, and it should be straightforward to gauge how many skilled workers are available who have or are working towards this qualification. Depending on the scale and terms and conditions of grant it may be that you will wish to use in-house teams, contract teams or a mixture of both.
- The overwhelming amount of path work in Scotland has been carried out by contract teams, and this has certainly helped keep an air of vibrancy and competitive ‘fitness’ in the industry.
- However, it has not lent itself particularly well to skills or techniques development, and industry ‘clients’ have taken the responsibility to develop skilled workers and SVQs.
If there are insufficient workers available, or you wish to see those skills delivered locally to maximise local benefits of the project, you may wish to train workers as part of the project development. The Ross and Cromarty Footpath Trust developed the first Upland Pathskills Training project, building up technical skills locally to carry out a 5-year plan of upland path work. The National Trust for Scotland has since taken up this training project to develop skills nationally, and in England the Lake District National Park Authority is the latest organisation to have taken the responsibility of developing skills to feed in to its capital works programme over the longer period.
Evaluate the resource
What is the condition of your footpath resource, and within what context is the path set?
- A complete survey using at least ‘Green’ and ‘Amber’ (see section 2) levels of survey will give you a good indication of the level of work that is required, and a system of prioritisation where a number of paths are involved. It should provide you with a comprehensive set of information, including user information, land management, cultural and natural heritage designations, design considerations, land ownership and health and safety implications.
- Health and safety considerations will set some of the key limitations to what can be achieved, and how much it will cost. A comprehensive audit of the resource should give a good indication of the health and safety implications of the project and what controls may need to be brought into place to deliver the project. Section 3 shows in detail the liabilities and legislation that will have to be considered when developing and delivering an upland path project.
It is well worth giving some time and thought to the way the project will be delivered at the macro-level.
- Will you use intensive high-build techniques only, in order to reduce the maintenance liability? These have been used in projects as it has been traditionally very difficult to attract revenue funding for maintenance, and there may be a temptation to maximise the availability of grants. It must be taken into account that this can be a false economy as any footpath will fall apart eventually if it is not maintained.
- Pre-emptive works can be appropriate in sensitive and high-altitude areas. These techniques will minimise the environmental and landscape impact of project work. They will not, however, prove an effective solution for large-scale damage that has already occurred.
- Maintenance will be essential to the project whatever you do, but effective maintenance built into project design at the start can provide a sliding scale between intensity of build and levels of maintenance. You may well be able to work with much more sensitive and less expensive techniques if you programme more maintenance into the project aftercare at the outset.
It is important to estimate accurately the timescale for your project. If it spans a number of years it is worth having an annual spread of costs built into the project plan. Never rely on your high-altitude project work being carried out during the winter months, particularly January through March, as the risks are enormously increased. The work will become much more difficult, and it will be very difficult for the contractor to keep together a team in conditions as poor as those that can occur at altitude during these months.
What are the financial assumptions and forecasts that your project budget is based on?
You should consider a number of factors:
- Funding: The nature of funding will directly affect the project work. It will be by far the most effective if it is possible to secure both capital and revenue funding. It has clearly been demonstrated that capital-built projects will fall apart without maintenance, regardless of design or standards of construction. Conversely, it may be possible to reduce the level of build in capital path projects, significantly reducing unit costs and impacts on the environment, by increasing the revenue costs, and therefore the level of aftercare.
- Treatment of Value Added Tax: What will be the VAT status of your project? If VAT is fully or partially recoverable then this will reduce your project costs significantly. If not, it will be necessary to write off 17.5% in VAT. If you can demonstrate viable income generated via the path network then this may well make a case for recovery, but at the time of writing it is more normal for VAT to be written off for upland path projects.
- Inflation: You should allow for a realistic rise in the cost of living through your project, as this will affect payroll, contract and equipment costs.
- Contracts: If it is intended to use contracts to build paths, through competitive tendering, then you should be aware of the market forces at play. Contract tenders on this basis will flex with market demand, not inflation. A small number of contracts and an industry at overcapacity will result in cheap prices, possibly too cheap, and the converse will produce inflated contract costs.
How sensitive is your project to variables across a range of factors?
- Legal: Changes in land legislation may directly affect your project aims. It is well worth becoming familiar with the basic principles of land law, particularly relating to public access, and finding out if there are any planned changes in legislation. A significant change may jeopardise the project. Other examples include implementation of Disability Discrimination Act and H & S legislation.
- Technical limitations: You must be sure that there are sufficiently effective and appropriate techniques available to fully develop the project. It is also a good time to evaluate the skilled manpower that is currently available, and that which will be available as the project develops.
- Economic: If the project spans a long period of time you will have to consider economic stability and build in some flexibility for rises in the cost of living. This will be on a predicted rate, and yet the longer term the project the less predictable this will be, as global market forces are complex and it is difficult for even the most astute of financial experts to forecast accurately over the long term. Conversely, if your plan requires a level of endowment funding it is normal to spread the risk over a number of sources. These should carry a broadly predictable outcome over the longer period, but may fluctuate markedly from year to year. If it is intended to provide revenue from this source then contingency for fluctuation should be built in.
- Ownership: Changes in land ownership may have a direct effect on your project. It may well be worth obtaining legally binding access agreements that transcend transfer of land deeds.
- Overall the project plan should present a robust and rigorous argument for your project.
- Be succinct and structured and make sure the information is clearly laid out. Different individuals will be concerned with different sections, and may not want to have to read the whole document to isolate small but vital pieces of information.
- Appendices are a good way of cutting down the ‘bulk’ of information in your plan, but do not use them as a ‘dumping ground’ for all the information you don’t know where to put. Appendices should also be succinct, well structured and well laid out. Only relevant information should be included, and it should be clearly shown in the body of the text where and when to refer to appendices.
- Do not underestimate the financial resources required, as it is much better to ask for the required amount of money at the outset. Shifting goal posts do not inspire confidence in project sponsors, especially if they only go out the way! Understanding the VAT status at the outset is absolutely essential.
- Do not take it for granted that there will be skilled workers available at the last minute to work on your project. Path contractors are adept at weathering periods of famine and feast, but will respond much more positively to your project briefs if they are given sufficient planning time for their operations. Human resources are the key to effective delivery of upland path work, as the costs are overwhelmingly based on manpower owing to the manual nature of the work.
- Poor project timing can make an enormous difference to project costs and the chances of success. Never let a contract at high altitude during the heart of the winter, regardless of what is left in the budget and needs spent by the end of the financial year: it will cost you much more, there may be no contractor willing to risk their team on it, the health and safety implications are appalling, and it may become unworkable for the bulk of the winter period.