Transport infrastructure planners praise DfT’s social value orientation

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Transport infrastructure developers must follow new guidelines related to social value when preparing project proposals.

The Department of Transportation (DfT) has released the guidelines to provide engineering firms, built environment companies and infrastructure customers with a new way of assessing social value. Therefore, those applying for funding from the DfT must conduct a “place-based analysis” as part of a proposed project’s business case.

The site-based analysis includes the presentation of the benefits that an infrastructure project can bring to the communities surrounding the proposed construction site.

Justified TAG UNIT A4.3 Location based analysisThe report serves as a guide for developers, engineering firms and built environment companies in calculating the social value of proposed infrastructure projects.

The guidelines have been positively received by leading transport infrastructure planners. Former Hawkins Browns head of infrastructure and transport, architect Harbinder Birdi, said: “There’s something interesting at the Department for Transport that says we can’t have civil engineers build big blocks of infrastructure without looking at how that affects everyone in nearby will affect.

“It’s the DfT saying, every time we build a piece of infrastructure that costs a lot of money and will be there for the next 60/70 years, it has a place in people’s coexistence, what does it look like for people who live nearby or drive past it every day.”

As part of the report, the DfT calls for social value and community benefits to be considered in the economic element of any infrastructure business case.

Birdi, current member of the design review board for HS2, continued, “Anything that makes economists, engineers or architects question what they are doing is good in my eyes. One has to ask, is it holistically good for the common good?

“If you add an extra lane to the north roundabout, what does that mean? How do you create city-centric designs with people in mind?

“The DfT tells the engineers that you had better talk to your city councils and your planners because you need to tell us the impact of this project.”

Part of the DfT’s view of place-based analysis revolves around how different elements can be added to infrastructure designs that benefit the communities around them.

Founder of Madeleine Kessler Architecture, Madeleine Kessler said, “Infrastructure projects can provide an opportunity to serve communities in their sense of place. For example, a seawall is a barrier from the sea on one side, but on the other side can be allotments or something.

“Design isn’t just about the hard infrastructure, it’s also about how we can give people a sense of place through design and use that to improve communities.”

Kessler, who currently sits on the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) design group, is excited that these new guidelines will help designers avoid certain uncomfortable conversations they can have with developers.

She said: “It’s nice that developers have to see these things as important instead of designers trying to convince them.

“A lot of people talk about the value of a project, those big, expensive plans that cost a lot of money.

“First, it is important to think about more than the commercial value of the projects, and the DfT recognizes the importance of analyzing the social value. It’s a pretty big deal.”

A spokesman for NIC said: “The NIC previously welcomed changes to the Treasury Green Book to allow for a more holistic assessment of potential schemes against policy objectives. A spokesman said the commission supports place-based analysis and its design principles for national infrastructure strive to reflect the importance of enhancing social value, strengthening local identity and protecting the environment.”

The DfT’s report, released Tuesday, September 20, also talks about an issue it calls the “two-way street effect.”

It examines how specific infrastructure projects that improve connectivity for specific locations can actually have “adverse rather than positive impacts” on a location. According to the report, this may be due to increasing competition in the housing, product and labor markets.

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