We’ve mentioned before about the need for infrastructure to adopt a whole-of-project focus when it comes to social value. To embrace opportunities to generate social value across all stages of infrastructure projects, not simply during procurement and construction.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 – and the more recent Annex A model – refer to procurement directly, but can be widely applied to all aspects of infrastructure projects. And one area we think deserves some special attention is planning.
To make more of a difference, social value must be fully embedded from the onset of projects. As it is, social value is rarely considered past a minimum weighting to secure planning permission. Yet the planning stage holds incredible potential for bolstering social value efforts. It’s the key to maximising the value of projects and keeping organisations and developers accountable for making more of a difference. Let’s take a look…
Why does it matter?
Embedding social value deeper into the planning system – over and above existing requirements – will lead to a greater understanding of the impacts of projects and enable a more targeted, valuable approach to social value creation, closely in line with local needs.
Using the planning process, social value outcomes can be defined early on and be fully embedded into project briefs. Considering local needs and desired outcomes in the early stages of a project encourages us to think more broadly about how infrastructure can be used to boost local communities – moving past apprenticeships, local employment, and using SMEs. It’s space to think more creatively about how new developments can have a positive impact.
If a higher expectation of social value becomes the norm – a key consideration of securing permission or not – this forces social value to be a higher priority for all other organisations involved in infrastructure. The most impactful outcomes can be identified, clearly defined, and communicated early on, meaning better outcomes for everybody. Local authorities and councils can maximise social value, developers and other organisations can win contracts, and local people can benefit from the end result of a more socially valuable project.
A well-rounded approach
To have the greatest impact, social value in planning must take a well-rounded approach, considering the economic, social, and environmental aspects of planning.
Economic – establishing a strong, resilient economy (creating jobs, apprenticeship programs, and ensuring the right types of land are available to support economic growth and innovation).
Social – building vibrant communities that are healthy, accessible, and meet the needs of present and future generations (affordable housing, funding local community-based projects, better access to health and social care).
Environmental – ensuring that projects protect and enhance the natural environment and historic sites (waste and pollution management, low-carbon construction techniques, energy efficient buildings, renewable energy sources).
Embedding social value
More than being a box to tick, social value should become a standardised aspect of the planning process.
To do this, local authorities and councils can link their social value and local plan policies. Explicit links between your social value policy and the planning approval process for new developments sends a clear message to the industry/organisations that social value needs to be a priority. It lays out your expectations, enabling organisations to better tailor their applications towards what you’re looking for.
Doing this also provides leverage during the planning permission process, as without explicit links, you open yourself up to challenges.
Another way to further embed social value into planning is to require social value self-assessments at the planning application stage. These give organisations the opportunity to demonstrate what social value they will deliver and how it will be delivered. By collecting self-assessments and clearly measuring and evaluating the potential impact and outcomes of projects before awarding permissions, you ensure the greatest possible value for the local community upon delivery and final completion.
Embedding social value
Integrating social value into the planning process will mean getting crystal clear on what is expected from the organisations you partner with. It requires you to take the time to better understand the local needs of your community and familiarise yourself with the greatest challenges your efforts should address.
From here, you can produce outcomes-focused strategies that should be shared openly to maximise synchronicity throughout an entire project’s life cycle. Creating a public-facing social value statement can be great for this. By clearly laying out what your projects need to provide and openly sharing this with other organisations, you encourage their social value commitments to better align with your local area’s unique needs and requirements.
Pre-planning discussion and communication is essential for ensuring the greatest impact. And the earliest you can uncover local needs and challenges, how you want to address them, and share this with infrastructure providers, the better.
What about section 106?
A Section 106 agreement is a legal agreement between a party seeking planning permission and a local planning authority. They are often based on local need and used to mitigate the impact of a project on the local community and infrastructure.
Sometimes, planners can be wary of social value, thinking developers will try to get around paying the extra money needed for certain outcomes. But there are ways around this. Local authorities or councils can set social value requirements within Section 106 agreements – legally binding agreements to ensure your chosen outcomes come to fruition. Or to extract financial contributions from developers for the delivery of certain outcomes during development.
Although they can’t be used for all social value outcomes, they can be a great way to get your non-negotiables covered. To better integrate social value into the planning process, we must clearly visualise the outcomes of our efforts. Meaning there needs to be a robust, consistent approach to measuring, monitoring, and reporting the delivery of social value.
This will allow the industry to build a collective understanding of what good social value looks like, share best practices across authorities and organisations, and gradually reinforce social value’s place within the planning process. And, most importantly, empower all stages of infrastructure projects to achieve even more positive outcomes for local communities.
The Impact platform takes the guesswork out of your social value. We make it easy to measure, evaluate, and evidence the impact of your efforts, as well as clearly defining what social value means to you and your local area. If you want to find out more, or want advice on strengthening your social value efforts, get in touch on 0161 532 4752.