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Reform and Representation: Making the Equality Impact Assessment a Validation Requirement in UK Planning

The Equality Act is really important for our work at Make Space for Girls. If applied properly, it should require planners and other decision makers to consider the results of their decisions on a wide range of marginalised groups - including teenage girls. A key part of that is the use of Equality Impact Assessments. In this guest blog, Sophie Stanton explains how these could be made to work better.

June 13, 2024
June 12, 2024
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In Section 149 of the Equalities Act (2010), public authority decision makers are required to have due regard to the elimination of discrimination, advance the opportunities of equality and foster good relations between those with protected characteristics. It is believed that the planning system is instrumental in shaping the physical, social and economic environments of communities. However, vast evidence suggests that the current planning system overlooks the complexities of diversity, leading to developments failing to meet the needs of all users or the lack of protection of spaces with social heritage and legacy for such communities.

We must pay attention to how these diverse communities shape and influence these places, and how the value in this should coincide with the planning system. The question is, what can be done to ensure equality is represented throughout the planning process? The importance of ‘place and space’ has been neglected throughout the study of protected characteristics and intersectionality, which reveals importance in exposing experienced and structured inequalities of identified in diverse communities to understand how this is reflected or limited in our built environments. Amidst planning processes involving diverse communities with varying requirements and aspirations for space which is representative of them, it is significant to acknowledge the existing complexities, and how evidence of exclusion and marginalisation can be resolved.

The built environment is an integral part of our daily lives, shaping the way we live, work and interact with one another. As such, it is crucial that design, construction and management of buildings and infrastructure reflects inclusivity and equitability for everyone. Why is this important?

In our towns and cities, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps to create a more sustainable and resilient built environment, whereby diverse and inclusive design processes can assist in identifying the needs and preferences of different communities and development can reflect such requirements. Secondly, the built environment plays a key role in shaping our communities, and it is essential that the public have equal access to the benefits it provides. This includes access to housing, education, healthcare, social spaces and employment opportunities. Ultimately, a lack of EDI in such environments can lead to social exclusion, marginalisation and inequality. Finally, planning for EDI reflects the fundamental ethical and moral principles which should guide developments and the spaces we occupy. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is important to look at how the built environment can support this further.

Planning in the ‘public interest’ is at the core of the UK planning system. However, as years progress this has been increasingly criticised as lacking due to prioritisation of economic growth and profit over social consideration, including a lack of public participation and engagement in the planning process. Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness of the need for a more inclusive and equitable planning system and a demand for a ‘reform’ which places people at the centre and creating a greater emphasis on engagement to promote EDI. Conversely, what would this reform look like? How can we drive this change to plan more sustainably for communities?

At present, the offerings of Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) are limited. EIAs are stated to be a vital tool in ensuring that planning decisions are fair, inclusive and equitable by identifying potential negative impacts and ensure that steps are taken to mitigate them. There are a number of Local Planning Authorities who have provided guides on EIAs, however often this focuses on the Public Sector Equality Duty to identify and consider impacts of equality on activities, which are based on internal practices and is significantly broad and lack detail in terms of planning practice.

The purpose of such assessments is to increase the promotion of transparency and accountability in the planning process. Therefore, conducting such work helps to build trust and confidence in the planning process, particularly among marginalised and disadvantaged communities (protected characteristics). Urban environments home communities who have valuable knowledge and experience of places, which provides an important contribution to guiding development. However, this is arguably not nurtured to the degree it should be or representative enough in consultation processes and Statements of Community Involvement. To highlight the planning system as being for the public interest, I believe EIAs should be mandatory in reflecting and guiding such processes.

The research I have produced has stretched beyond constructs to look at the intersectional experiences of people in urban environments, understanding how their needs can be properly communicated and reflected into schemes and policies. This valuable information has allowed me to narrow down the important questions which should be covered in a renewed EIA template, and how this can be adaptable and applied to policies and schemes across various sectors. Since the enactment of the Equality Act, the planning system has evolved significantly, meaning that a renewed EIA is necessary to ensure that the planning systems is still meeting the needs of all members of society.

Some may question “why is a renewed EIA really needed?”, and there are multiple factors to consider in this, which has been reflected through my research:

(1) Demographics - the UK has experienced significant demographic changes in the past decade, including an increase in the number of older people, disabled people,
and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. A renewed EIA can help ensure that planning policies and decisions take into account the needs of these groups, and that they are not disproportionately affected by planning decisions.

(2) Policy Landscape - here have been significant changes to national and local planning policies since the Equality Act was enacted. A renewed EIA can help ensure
that these policies are consistent with the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and that they do not have any negative impact on certain groups.

(3) Emerging issues - new issues have emerged in the past decade that require a renewed EIA. For example, there is now a greater focus on the need for sustainable
development and climate change mitigation. A renewed EIA can help ensure that planning policies and decisions address these issues in a way that is fair and equitable.

By incorporating the principles of equality and non-discrimination into the planning process, we can create more sustainable and inclusive communities that meet the needs of all residents.

In respect of this, we would like to welcome engagement in the process of finalising an update to the EIA, looking at your own positionality and experience in terms of how this can be reflected in Planning. The below link will lead you to a questionnaire, whereby you take part in this data collection.

If you would like to share your thoughts on how this assessment can evolve, please reach out to me directly at:

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