We know our planning system isn’t currently delivering the homes that meet the needs of our communities, nor is it enforcing the level of sustainability ambition that it has become critical to deliver. Policymakers have the challenge of addressing these issues, whilst not making the planning system more onerous or preventing the delivery of much-needed housing.

For the built environment sector, delivering social value is about maximising the environmental, economic and social benefits from built places to the communities that live there. Success relies on a thorough understanding of the local needs of an area and the engagement of the local residents and businesses in decision-making.

The current application of the Social Value Act through the procurement of development partners by the public sector has produced some positive results for new development, in a way that industry has been able to embrace. Developers are now proactively seeking to produce social value strategies because of the positive relationship it initiates with local authorities and communities.

But public procurement processes only influence a small proportion of new development each year. The planning system has influence over almost all new development, and therefore presents a much greater opportunity to deliver value to communities. Which prompts the question: Could using the concept of ‘social value’, which has had success in in driving better standards in new development through procurement, be helpful in planning?

Although the wording of The Social Value Act requires that social value be considered just as part of public sector procurement, the ethos behind the Act is really about all public sector spending. There is a clear case to be made for the Act’s application to the planning system, which involves significant levels of public spending. This spending comes directly from the operation and administration of the planning system, but also indirectly through the spending of developer contributions. For policymakers, looking at the planning system through the lens of the Social Value Act is an opportunity to gather more value from the public purse.

Indeed, many councils have already started experimenting with integrating social value into planning and have produced positive results. Manchester City Council and Coventry use planning conditions to set social value requirements, and Salford City Council and Islington have included a social value policy in their emerging Local Plans. Bristol City Council, Camden Council and GLA are all actively looking at this space.

In August 2018, the Civil Society Strategy included an announcement that Government intended to explore what integrating social value into planning would look like. This prompted UKGBC to collate the disparate planning policies in our social value guide for local authorities. A year on from the launch of that guide, UKGBC hosted a roundtable discussion with industry and local authorities to steer the conversation on the most effective way to integrate social value into planning. Local authorities, DCMS, MHCLG, as well as programme partners Avison Young, Buro Happold and Rockwool were all in attendance.

A view emerged from that group that the most effective process was for a planning authority to require that developers submit a social value strategy, assessment or community charter for developments over a certain size as a condition of planning. This requirement should be laid out as a Social Value Policy in the Local Plan to avoid it being rejected by planning committee. The roundtable flagged some important considerations for planning authorities looking at this practice:

  • Planners will need help understanding what social value means, and the value of its consideration over and above the existing planning system. It is often helpful for local authorities to define social value in their own words, highlighting some key aspects of a social value approach, differentiating it from sustainability or corporate social responsibility.
  • It is important to make sure that social value doesn’t become a tick-box exercise in planning, yet some kind of standardisation across requirements can be helpful for the private sector. Instead of prescribing interventions, local authorities could provide (or direct applicants to) a set of principles of or process for delivering social value, for example, requiring high levels of community engagement or ongoing monitoring of outcomes. Providing a selection of outcomes, like increased employment or access to green space, could still be helpful as inspiration for applicants and as a clear link to the strategic priorities of the local authority.
  • A balance should be struck between the private sector and public sector on how they assess and establish local needs. The local authority will have lots of local data that they can make readily available (for example, information gathered through the plan making process) but the private sector has the finance available to invest in comprehensive needs analysis and community engagement.

Although there is much more work to be done in this space, UKGBC is committed to supporting local authorities find out what are the most effective interventions for their planning processes. A good starting point for any local authority is to bring together their officers, development partners and communities to discuss where opportunities for creating social value are being missed in the current processes.

If you work at a local authority that is grappling with this issue, please contact UKGBC to share your perspective. We will be updating the guide with more policies examples in the coming months.