A social value approach when ‘Planning for the Future’
By Phoebe Dennis
On the 6th August 2020, the UK government published the ‘Planning For The Future’ White Paper, setting out the proposed reforms to the planning system in England within the scope of streamlining the planning process, sustainable design, reformed developer contributions, and making more land available for development.
Social Value Portal, alongside Real Worth, Seerbridge and the Temple Group, and with support from industry body Social Value UK, collaborated to submit a united response to the public consultation. The combined response demonstrated the importance of social value as the golden thread running through the reformed planning system.
The omission of social value
It was a far-reaching oversight that ‘social value’ was not explicitly cited within the White Paper, given its importance within current planning and wider central and local government spending. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and the transformation that it is having on the relationship between the public and private sectors is already significant. And this will continue to grow from January 2021, when Central Government moves beyond the Act to ensure all major procurements not only consider, but also explicitly evaluate social value. There is already a wealth of best practice where social value is integrated into the planning system, with vast momentum building.
The scale of the prize…why bother?
Based on good practice benchmarks, the total additional social value that could be generated by an engaged real estate sector is significant, and conservative estimates are at over £30 billion per year. Through a development project lifecycle, social value can be used as an overarching tool by planning authorities to ensure community benefit is maximised at each phase. However, the planning community is missing this vast opportunity to generate social value, by not fully embedding it as the golden thread within the reformed planning process. As part of our response to the White Paper, we submitted some key recommendations where social value can be embedded to enhance the proposed reforms.
A move to digital
The proposal for Local Plans to be digitalised, map-based and open access is definitely a good opportunity to increase the transparency of the planning process. However, Local Plans could have an even greater application through the mapping and inclusion of local needs and areas of deprivation (through Indices of Multiple Deprivation[i] and other government data sets) to demonstrate how the Local Plan is responding to the needs of the area. Not only this, but the proposed move to digitalised community consultation must also consider additional measures to include 21% of Britain’s population without basic digital skills and capabilities required to realise the benefits of the internet.
Inclusion of social value in Local Plans and sustainability assessments
In order to ensure that social value is both committed to, and delivered, it should be embedded at policy level. Local Plans should include a Social Value Policy that is explicitly linked to new development, where overarching social value priorities for the planning authority are identified. Local authorities should utilise the ‘Sustainability Assessment’ proposed in the White Paper to secure adherence to their local Social Value Policy by requiring a ‘Social Value Statement’ for all major applications.
To effectively understand the needs of the local area and unlock social value from developers, local authorities need to be sufficiently resourced with social value expertise.
Reformed developer contributions
A two-tiered Levy approach, including a financial Levy (locally set against a set of criteria) and a Social Value Contribution (SVC), could provide the necessary incentive for developers to deliver social value. This in turn would ensure community benefit is generated through development. The SVC could be based on the National Social Value Measurement Framework (the National TOMs) which would allow the consistent ‘valuation’ of various community initiatives, and could be used by developers to offer an SVC based on the percentage value of construction costs. In the case where an SVC proposal goes above and beyond normal expectations, this could be considered a ‘material’ improvement and the developer would then retain their SVC (i.e. tax relief) through delivering social value.
If social value is embedded effectively in the planning process, occupiers will benefit from an increased local skills base and a more vibrant economy. Asset owners will benefit from an increased asset value over the long term. And ultimately, the local community will be the key beneficiary from any initiative, gaining from more jobs, support with training, cleaner and greener places to live, and community investment. Now even more so, these outcomes can directly address issues caused by COVID-19 if a build back better recovery with social value running through the system is achieved.