Article by Guy Battle, Chief Executive, Social Value Portal and Phoebe Dennis, Social Value Planning Advisor
It’s clear to see that social value should sit at the heart of our planning system. There’s no doubt it can provide a major opportunity to secure the broader aims behind the Public Services (Social Value) Act. Right now, however, it is rarely accounted for during the planning process. As a result, communities are being denied up to £30 billion worth of additional social benefits. These benefits would otherwise be realised if developers were asked to focus on maximising the wider contribution a development can bring to society.
As we emerge from the pandemic, it becomes even more important for planners and developers to work closely together to see how they can build back better, greener and fairer.
What work has been done?
The Social Value Planning Taskforce (SVPT) was set up in November 2020 as a working group of the National Social Value Taskforce. Formed as a collaboration from across the planning, development and design communities, the group’s purpose was to look specifically at how to integrate social value into the planning process. The group demonstrated a clear, collective desire to explore how they can achieve this integration, whilst also rebuilding trust within communities, and supporting them to recover and deliver better places to live.
The recommendations of the SVPT can be found in the group’s briefing paper, published in July 2021. The recommendations show that existing legislation already provides the policy ‘air cover’ that allows planners to request a Social Value Statement as a part of planning, and why it makes sense for developers to submit one.
Key findings of the paper include:
- The best way to embed social value into planning is by requiring developers to submit a Social Value Statement as a part of the planning application for major developments.
- A Social Value Statement can be transformative in demonstrating a developer’s understanding of local needs and commitment to addressing these through measurable social value outcomes. Setting social value targets for design, construction, occupation and estate management within a Social Value Statement, using the National TOMs ensures that social value is acknowledged and valued in negotiations and then committed to throughout the lifecycle of the development. These commitments can be secured through the planning system to ensure delivery.
- Social value outcomes included within the Social Value Statement that meet the three tests can become a contractual agreement. A schedule of remedies based on the National TOMs can be used in case of non-delivery.
- A Local Plan represents the most robust way of ensuring that social value is addressed through the planning and development process. It may be used to provide specific additional local requirements that development teams can respond to. This has been demonstrated by Islington and Salford City Council, who are pioneering this approach.
- Where a Local Plan does not exist, or does not yet contain any reference to social value at a statutory level, the National Planning Policy Framework and the Health and Social Care Act 2012, combined with existing local policies provide the necessary permissions and rationale for planning authorities to request a Social Value Statement. This can demonstrate how the development meets the principles of sustainable development and responds to the relevant area Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.
What can be done with the recommendations?
Embedding social value into planning can provide significant benefits to all stakeholders. Developers want their developments to be ‘liked’ by local people. They want to reduce any potential challenges, and ensure that after completion, the new development will be accepted. A Social Value Statement demonstrating these wider social benefits is a valuable tool to rebuild trust in the planning system for local communities.
A developer already embracing this is First Base. First Base integrates social value throughout the lifecycle of their developments, starting with the planning application, through to the delivery and management of the site. Social Value Portal works alongside First Base to develop coherent social value strategies for their developments, including Edward Street Quarter in Brighton and The Soapworks in Bristol.
Liam Ronan-Chlond, Head of Engagement and Social Value at First Base says, “Embedding an approach to social value from the outset of any project is fundamental to First Base. Developing a social value strategy for our planning applications is the best way to ensure that we can maximise the social, economic and environmental value generated throughout the lifecycle of our developments.
“It is important to us that any social value delivered is tangible, needs-based and developed in collaboration with communities. Hence we’ve committed to adopting Social Value Portal’s approach on all major developments.”
If social value is successfully integrated into the planning process, we would see significant benefits to communities, including more jobs, more local wealth creation, improved skills, greater community cohesion and a cleaner, greener environment, worth up to £30 billion per year in additional social value.
It’s certainly a prize worth fighting for.
To find out more about how Social Value Portal supports embedding social value into the planning process, contact the team at [email protected]. You can also find the recommendations in the Planning Taskforce’s Briefing Paper, as well as a full list of the 38 contributing organisations.
Article first published in Public Sector Executive August/September 2021 Edition