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Show me the Evidence

The recent consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework (now closed) has brought forth diverse opinions from across the political, geographical and social spectrum. All are agreed on one thing – that the current planning system needs reform.

How and when this reform is presented in legislation or official guidance is uncertain, and for many involved in creating homes and places that are inclusive and sustainable, this uncertainty is reinforcing a state of both paralysis and powerlessness. But despite the uncertainty about regulations and systems, there is a growing body of evidence developing on planning impact that should improve the process regardless of system reform.

Alongside the discussion and debate about what our planning system should look like, there’s been a quiet but powerful development of data, and frameworks to apply it, so that all involved in creating and regenerating places can engage in more meaningful and evidenced discussion about impact and viability.

This has been particularly noticeable in approaches to measuring the impact of development on health and wellbeing.

· In meeting its mission to “accelerate research and democratise access to wellbeing evidence”, What Works Wellbeing provides guidance on data collection and useful frameworks for measuring individual and community wellbeing.

· The Quality of Life Foundation has built a body of evidence on what affects people’s quality of life in our homes, neighbourhoods and communities, and have used this evidence to build a framework to demonstrate how improvements to our homes and communities can improve quality of life.

· A toolkit for embedding health, social impact, inclusivity and equity into new development has recently been adopted by the London Borough of Brent. It creates a new requirement for a Quality Statement to be submitted with a planning application, to demonstrate how the design of a development specifically benefits people’s quality of life. The approach is structured to address health inequalities, by raising expectations for development in proportion to local needs and the potential impacts.

· Health Equals has recently been established by the Health Foundation to raise awareness of what shapes health in local communities, and has developed an index of life expectancy based on postcode

Increasingly data, metrics and frameworks on planning impact are being developed and applied by housebuilders and property developers, as part of their corporate ESG policies and practices. According to Knight Frank

“Developers we are working with are reviewing the cost of their projects vs sustainability factors and are increasingly trying to ensure the right balance of maximising development value, whilst ensuring they’re meeting a high ESG standard. And it’s not just the E that’s taking their focus. The social impact element of ESG, while generally harder to quantify as it’s not always on the occupier’s agenda, is gaining traction, with developers wanting to excel at providing amenities for occupiers, whilst delivering facilities that can be used for social benefit to the local community.”

ESG policies and the data underlying them are becoming essential to corporates seeking investment, as a growing class of investor seeks opportunities with organisations that rank highly on ESG metrics.

The challenge for most of us is to access and understand ESG measurement and benchmarks, and most importantly to use this information to hold developers to account on their use within individual projects. It’s hard to find a property investor now that doesn’t have a stated ESG policy on its website . It’s up to us as community activists to use this to inform our engagement with developers.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

March 27, 2023

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