Archaeologists on the Tideway site at Chamber's Wharf (c) MOLA Headland Infrastructure.jpg

Archaeology and Public Benefit Project Update 9: How can we ensure social value from archaeology in the planning system?

Dr Sadie Watson
20.07.2021

Dr Sadie Watson  is leading a  four-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship  looking at maximising public benefit from archaeology carried out on UK infrastructure projects. In this blog series, she keeps us up to date with  the project team’s progress… 

Conversations about how archaeology conducted through the planning system might be directed towards better public benefit have progressed significantly over the last year. In many ways the contracting sector has lagged behind academia in thinking deeply about our outcomes but this is partly due to the pressures of client relationships, the complex bureaucratic structures of construction procurement and the fallback minimum requirement of ‘mitigation leading to archiving and grey literature’.  

Now things are moving forward, and we are thinking about how we can practically provide better outcomes from our work. Most archaeology in the UK occurs within the planning system, which isn’t known for its flexibility, with decisions often criticised for ignoring the opinions of local communities. But there are opportunities within these frameworks, and one solution is offered by merely a change in terminology. The construction, public and private sectors use Social Value to define the need to take account of the wider economic, social and environmental effects of their actions. There is legislation across all devolved nations of the UK in support of this growing area, with the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 (England), Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, Procurement Reform Act (Scotland) 2014 and the Social Value Unit (Northern Ireland). Although initially the various expectations relate primarily to large public-sector contracts and procurement using public funds, the basic tenets have been taken up in other sectors, notably by construction and housing in particular, as well as Local Authorities, District Councils and City Councils, including their planning departments.  

The Social Value portal (https://socialvalueportal.com/) provides guidance on how to embed the principles of social value into planning decisions. The best way planners can show how the wider social value created by a development forms part of the planning process (pre-application and submission) is to complete a Social Value Statement as a part of any new planning application. 

This statement includes a detailed response to local needs, ideally incorporating feedback from local communities. It supports the planning committee’s recognition of wider social, environmental and economic benefits of a new development, and also demonstrates the tangible long-term financial value that will be delivered. There is a clear commercial advantage to this too of course: if we as  archaeological contractors can usefully contribute to an overall development, we will position ourselves as providers of social value, currently still an innovation waiting to happen.  

The social value statement will be prepared by the developer – so we should ask them what they need from us and suggest ways in which we could fit in with their aims while also fulfilling our own objectives. Archaeology can be a creative process that should invite other sources of creativity – so do your research on the needs of the local communities to see how the archaeological work could fit. It definitely will, we just need to illustrate this with examples and provide proposals.  

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