The National Planning and Policy Framework (NPPF) has the golden thread of sustainability running through it, which sounds great. However, this is actually a complex concept; when translated into physical infrastructure interpretations this can become contradictory and a balance must be struck between prioritising social, economic and environmental interests. The document is also highly interpretive and what compliance means to different practitioners can vary widely.
It was from this basis that Dan Jestico (head of sustainable development at Iceni) set out to create a “yardstick to appraise planning proposals (development plan submissions and applications alike)”. The challenge was creating a tool that reflected the detail of extensive planning submission documents and the NPPF, without making it too complex or time consuming, so it would be accessible to all and actually used.
The goals was “for all practitioners to be in a position to apply the same, easily understood criteria to all projects, so that there is consistency in decision making, and a real understanding of what constitutes sustainable development”.
To this end the Sustainable Development Commission was formed in March 2016 with support from Nick Raynsford (former Labour housing Minister), drawing together a cross section of industry professionals, including: Shaun Spiers (Chief Executive, CPRE) and Janet Askew (RTPI President, 2015), among others.
Through a series of meetings and scrutiny exercises the sustainable development scorecard was created and launched 28th November 2017. The tool is designed to take around an hour to use and is peppered with helpful hints and explanations for those less familiar with certain concepts, as it guides you through a series of questions. Please see the video below for more details.
In my view the scores produced are subjective, as each question is answered with a sliding scale. I am sure each party involved would produce a different scorecard for the same development. Though bringing these different viewpoints into the same platform and the same language with easily comparable outcomes (pie charts, tables and scores) will highlight the disparities in a novel way, and potentially enable better dialogue between planning offices, developers and communities. At the launch event, it was repeatedly emphasised that it is not meant to be used as a benchmark, partly for this reason.
It was also emphasised during the launch that the scorecard reflects what is currently in the NPPF, rather than an aspiration about what sustainable development could look like. However, it is designed with the intention to encourage improvement; the aspiration was that it could be used from the start of the planning process to flag up issues early and to improve on an iterative basis.
It is another push in the direction of simplification in planning processes, one aiming to be inclusive. Whether, if widely used, it will have the effect of bringing stakeholders together to improve future developments remains to be seen. I think it has potential and I look forward to seeing the results of what might be possible when all stakeholders are able to ‘speak the same language’ through the tool.
See more about the scorecard here: https://vimeo.com/244731848
Access the tool here: http://thescorecard.org.uk