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Planning with the financial future in mind: Using the CLIC Tool to help communities determine infrastructure life cycle costs

Part nine of 10 of our Stantec R&D Fund 10th Anniversary Series explores a community development crystal ball that’s less fortune and more fact

Many land developers focus on short-term community planning. It’s up to municipalities to think about the years to come. Stantec’s Lourette Swanepoel is helping community leaders look a century into the future to make the best decisions for their cities.

Almost 60% of Canada’s core public infrastructure is currently owned and maintained by local governments, according to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card. What’s more, 35% of that infrastructure is in poor or very poor condition. While there is a clear challenge to maintain assets, municipalities are also challenged by unprecedented growth and pressure to develop.

These challenges haven’t gone unnoticed by Stantec community planner Lourette Swanepoel.

The issue
Traditionally, land developers operate with a single focus: develop land into livable communities and make a profit. Municipalities are tasked with balancing expanding residential opportunities with the challenges of environmental sustainability. Often, the rising cost of building and maintaining infrastructure such as roadways and water systems isn’t top of mind for municipalities. Unexpected costs or maintenance are transferred on to taxpayers for years to come. 

“I noticed a significant need for a tool or process to help municipalities forecast expense and revenue opportunities when it comes to development,” says Lourette. “It’s not just the upfront cost of building new roads or furthering distribution networks. It’s plowing snow, maintaining community centers, or dealing with a disaster like a flood or fire that can quickly add up and put a heavy, unsustainable financial burden on local government finances.”

            Related Item: Learn about our land planning services

What if communities were able to plan for the future with more certainty and confidence? What if they had something like a crystal ball, with less fortune and more fact?

The opportunity
Using resources from Stantec’s Research & Development Program (now called Greenlight), Lourette worked in partnership with the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (MCSCD) to format a Microsoft Excel-based tool to compare of the cost of different residential development scenarios over a 100-year life cycle.

The Community Lifecycle Infrastructure Costing (CLIC) Tool helps planners forecast, during the planning process, the financial implications of these scenarios. That way, developers and municipalities make informed decisions when designing their communities. The tool won the Planning Institute of BC award and a Canadian Institute of Planning award in 2016.

            Related Item: Learn about our Creativity & Innovation Program

When everything CLICs
One of the first municipalities to use the CLIC tool was the City of Prince George, British Columbia. Using the CLIC tool, the City is not only able to look at the potential cost incurred by the municipality as their city grows, it can also evaluate the value of its assets and identify areas that require improvement. By weighing development options, the CLIC tool has encouraged the City to take the financial aspects of planning into consideration.

The City has compared two neighborhoods—a medium-density infill scenario and a low-density subdivision. The life cycle costs over a 100-year timespan are about 21% lower per household in the infill scenario while the revenues were only 14% less per household. Per hectare, the City also collects about 61% more revenue from its land in the infill scenario. In every cash-strapped community, these are savings that should be capitalized on through smarter land development decisions. Why? It frees up valuable dollars to direct towards sustaining high quality assets and services.

The City of Prince George has used the CLIC Tool to peer into the community’s financial future and align municipal departments with long-term plans. Photo Courtesy City of Prince George.

One of the most valuable outcomes from the process, says Lourette, was the intentional “digging” to compile costing data from various groups into one common inventory of typical costs for critical infrastructure. When information was not available, that wasn’t necessarily bad. That missing information identified gaps in data and financial understanding.

Using CLIC to provide a high level comparative life cycle costing analysis has been a valuable part of Prince George’s asset management process. CLIC was effective in facilitating an understanding of costs associated with development across departments. It was also considered an important step for planners to take before committing to the implementation, servicing, and maintenance of assets over time.

Making it part of the process
"What we've found with CLIC is that we’ve been able to break down silos and see alignment of our work with the financial plan and asset management plans,” says Tiina Schaeffer, Manager of Sustainable Community Development with the City of Prince George. “Asset management sees alignment of their work with the Official Community Plan (OCP) and financial guidelines. And, finance is starting to see alignment with the OCP and asset management plans.”

The CLIC tool can be used to help with several parts of the community planning puzzle. The goal is to help municipalities create neighborhoods that are economically sustainable, even by the year 2117. AOR: ICON Architecture, Inc.

The pilot was just the start of Prince George’s exploration with CLIC. The Sustainable Community Development division continues to expand internal awareness of the tool and is looking at utilizing CLIC for a land use development project currently under application review. Conversations with staff are underway to explore if and how to integrate the tool into the decision-making framework. This includes the possibilities of:

  • Considering CLIC’s integration with development applications
  • Testing land use policies (e.g. urban containment boundaries, densification, and cost charges)
  • Exploring CLIC’s potential to help inform public engagement on growth and asset management
  • Providing triple-bottom-line and life cycle costing information to Council and/or senior management for holistic decision-making.

“The Prince George experience was helpful in identifying how CLIC can connect a community’s land-use planning and asset management planning processes,” says MCSCD senior planner Narissa Chadwick. “The high-level costing that CLIC produced provided Prince George with a business case for densification by illustrating how sprawled development is costlier than more compact development.”

            Related item: download the CLIC Tool for free

Following in the footsteps of Prince George, the District of West Vancouver in British Columbia is currently working through a fast-tracked, collaborative process to collect data for comparing a number of scenarios in advance of their OCP planning process. “CLIC allowed me to think and question more explicitly the inherit costs of our development patterns. It offers a great incentive to get planning, engineering, and finance staff together in one room to talk about the cost of land use decisions” says Stina Hanson, planning analyst with the District.

Lourette concludes, “The fiscal challenges facing our communities are some of the biggest threats to our long-term sustainability.

“Status quo is not an option,” she continues. “We must work with our clients to think about resilience and managing our assets, which all starts with how we choose to develop. CLIC helps to connect the development choices to the financial consequences of our decisions.”

About Lourette
Lourette Swanepoel is a professional planner and sustainability professional who lives her work in and outside of the office. Not only does Lourette work for her clients, she is dedicated to making her own community sustainable and resilient. Lourette volunteers as a Neighbourhood Emergency Assistance Team member, building capacity in case of emergency.

About this article
Stantec is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Research and Development (R&D) Fund—now called Greenlight. Through Greenlight, Stantec invests $2 million annually into our employees’ big ideas, with half the funds earmarked for scientific R&D initiatives. Greenlight is part of our Creativity & Innovation Program, which nurtures the efforts of our people to apply any idea that benefits us, our clients, or our communities, and enhances our reputation, competitive position, and ultimately our financial performance. In the coming months, we’ll be profiling 10 of our R&D grant recipients and their work, so check back often for more stories.

The fiscal challenges facing our communities are some of the biggest threats to our long-term sustainability. Status quo is not an option.” – Lourette Swanepoel

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