Socio-economics has always relevant to planning decisions, but it’s given a fresh focus by the proposal by the Scottish Government to introduce an overarching duty for public authorities to have regard to reducing socio-economic disadvantage.

The proposal

The Scottish Government propose to commence section 1 of the Equality Act 2010:

An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.

Relevance to planning

This would apply to planning authorities preparing the local development plan, but not to planning application decisions:

The duty would apply to the preparation of the local development plan by the planning authority, but it would not interfere with the development plan’s legal status as the basis for decision making and would not apply to individual planning decisions.

Balancing exercise

“have due regard” means that it’s a balancing exercise:

They will need to balance the requirements of the duty – that they consider the desirability of reducing the unequal outcomes that results from socio-economic disadvantage – with their other objectives. With this in mind, it is not necessary for public authorities to demonstrate, with every single action they take, that they are reducing inequalities.

This will add to the existing public sector equality duty (PSED), although that extends to planning applications.

How will it work?

The consultation paper includes a casestudy about an urban housing plan.

In identifying a site for low cost housing, having regard to socio-economic disadvantage might involve looking at how new bus services would have to be set up to help residents of the new housing, especially those on low pay, get to work, and provision of more information about new services required such as shops and a health centre.

Also, rather than identify a single preferred site, the council might also consult on an alternative site which would be more expensive to develop, but better located for people to get to work and to use the local services that are already there.

Although outcomes may be the same, different mindsets and approaches will required.