Getting Social Value from the Get-Go on Highways Projects

19.11.2020 6 min read

There is a growing consensus around the importance of social value in the infrastructure and built environment sectors. Since the publication of the Social Value Act 2012 (Public Services Act), social value has featured prominently in the bidding process for public sector contracts. It has also increasingly become part of non-procurement activities, such as planning, as we have come to realise its usefulness for embedding social sustainability in projects.

The growing importance of social value to the built environment and infrastructure sectors is evidenced by the range of toolkits, reports and consultations that were published this year (e.g. RIBA, Institute of Civil Engineers, Construction Innovation Hub, UKGBC, Social Value Portal, RTPI).

For highways projects, the focus on social value has typically been on construction – and much less so on the social value that could be created through the design of schemes and before that, through the appraisal process.

Temple’s Jenny Stafford recently discussed these issues on a Highways UK panel. We argue that the same principles of a social value approach apply here, as in other parts of the built environment and infrastructure sectors. More specifically, if we want to create long-lasting social value, in this case for local communities and users of the road network, we need to consider ways to design in social value at the early stages of a project.

We also need to think beyond the usual methods of delivering social value through the construction phase, such as methods to deliver more diverse and resilient supply chains. This should be supported by adequate and accurate measurement and monetisation of social value outcomes to evidence the ‘true benefit’ and to enhance the business case for a highways project.

Designing social value into highways projects

The appraisal process for highways projects currently considers social impact, typically through the Transport Analysis Guidance process (WebTAG) and in particular with regards to mitigation of adverse social impacts. However, by thinking about social value from the earliest stages of the appraisal and planning process, we can create and maximise real value for communities.

Some of the ways social value already exists and can be considered and designed into highways projects include:

  • Maximising opportunities for appreciation of landscape (and cultural related) views to enable memorable road trips. This is often balanced against the need to mitigate road visual impact;
  • Providing attractive rest areas, including space for provision of kiosks and cafes as well as seating facilities. Besides making for a pleasant and valuable part of a road trip, this creates value by providing economic opportunities for local communities;
  • Designing in shared road space for active travel i.e. cycling and walking. The multiple health and wellbeing benefits of active travel are widely recognised and evidenced (including with monetary valuation). Highways schemes can contribute to creating social value for a wide range of their users; and
  • By going beyond standard mitigation and creating functional natural habitats, such as provision of green bridges as enhanced ways to overcome severance, highways schemes can contribute substantial social and environmental value. This significantly enhanced mitigation supports local communities and ecosystems.

Embedding social value through its measurement

Actors in both the public and private sector are placing increasing emphasis on the measurement and monetisation of social value outcomes. The key techniques for this include ‘traditional’ Cost-Benefit Analyses, Wellbeing Valuations and Social Return on Investment (SROI).

These techniques are based on a growing body of evidence that allows us to estimate values for a range of social value outcomes. These range for example, from the wellbeing effects from increased active travel to the aesthetic value of green infrastructure and go far beyond the conventional measurement of the number of apprenticeships created and skills training undertaken.
Existing social value toolkits and evidence bases for transport include The Department for Transport’s Active Mode Appraisal Toolkit published earlier this year, and the Rail Safety and Standards Board’s (RSSB) Common Social Impact Framework for Rail (CSIF). Temple are currently working with Social Profit Calculator to update RSSB’s social value measurement tool for the rail sector (the existing CSIF), in conjunction with Network Rail. The work is due to complete in spring 2021.

Demonstrating social value creation from the outset of a highways project will do much more than present an enhanced strategic case for investment as part of the business case. By engaging with local communities and stakeholders to understand what they value about a project and the local area served by a highways intervention, social value can be designed into the scheme and enhance sustainability and buy-in, reducing cost further down the line. The valuation and monetisation of social value as part of the strategic case (supporting the overall business case) can help embed these principles into the design. This helps to ensure social value is driven through from the outset and establishes an evidence base for the wider value we are creating.

Creating Value through Highways Services

Looking forward, the Department for Transport (DfT) has established the following priorities for our strategic road networks in their Road Investment Strategy 2020-2025; a network that supports the economy, a greener network, a safer and more reliable network, a more integrated network and a smarter network. Furthermore, Highways England’s Designated Funds aim to invest £936 million between 2020-2025 across four funding streams, such as environment and wellbeing, that have been chosen to deliver lasting benefits to stakeholders. In order to optimise future investment in projects that maximise positive outcomes, the valuation and monetisation of social value outcomes for highways schemes should also be prioritised.

These wide-ranging priorities and funding streams offer opportunities to embed social value at a pre-project stage through analysing how we design and embed whole value into future highways services. This includes processes for valuing outcomes, through methods such as Social Return on Investment, enabling the creation of data that can then be fed back to create more impactful social value investment.

Across Temple Group we have a strong track record of delivering highways projects that focus on creating sustainable value.

Additionally, Highways services that we deliver, including those connected to Environmental Impact Assessment can enhance the value embedded within a project through inclusive approaches to public consultation and embracing early stage modelling. As previously mentioned Temple can apply social value expertise to transport and infrastructure projects, such as our work to update the RSSB social value measurement tool, and provide valuation and monetisation of social value outcomes for highways schemes.

A key example of where Temple’s strategic environmental and social expertise can be harnessed to add to the appraisal process is our report for Highways England and the DfT, ‘The Valuation of Landscape Impacts of Transport Interventions & Mitigations Using an Ecosystem Services Approach’ (2019). We conducted a thorough a review of established appraisal methods to value landscape impacts, including ecosystem service approaches and found that the monetary values associated with these changes were no longer fit for purpose. We developed a strategy for Highways England and DfT to support their appraisal process and provided guidance on the accurate measurement of the variegated landscape impacts of transport schemes.