BOOKS: by Dr Kerrie Allen (reviewer)News Weekly
SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT: An Introduction, by C.J. Barrow
, March 18, 2006
A manual for community activismSOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT: An Introduction
by C.J. Barrow
Paperback: 236 pages
RRP: $69.95The social impact assessment has become an increasingly important component of planning initiatives and decision-making.
Previously, the only considerations town-planners took into account were those of economics and structural planning - e.g., elevation, closeness to neighbouring property, parking, etc.
But, in the past 10 years, planners have increasingly recognised the importance of environmental considerations, such as: the impact of developments (housing, roads) on creeks, wetlands, breeding areas of certain rare types of birds and frogs; the quantities of parkland that will be lost; and the number of trees that will have be cut down.
The environmental lobby has done much to raise awareness of environmental issues. A major turning point was the Australian's public reaction, in the 1980s, to the then proposed damming of Tasmania's Franklin Gorge.
It was from then onwards that the environment began to be treated as no less important than economic considerations - a principle that is now enshrined in state laws throughout Australia.
Nowadays, a further less publicised but no less important consideration is that of social impact.
New Zealand, the UK and the USA have made great strides in this area over the past decade. However, this issue has tended to be neglected in Australia, except in some shires such as Newcastle, NSW, and Maribyrnong, Victoria, in the past few years.
Social considerations include:
- People's way of life - how they live, work and interact with one another on a day-to-day basis.
- Their culture - shared beliefs, customs, values and language.
- Their community - its cohesion, stability, character, services and facilities.
- Their political systems - the extent to which people are able to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
- Their environment - physical safety and access and control over resources.
- Their fears and aspirations - their perceptions about their safety, and fears about the future of their community.
The requirement for planners to consider social impacts is enshrined in the Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987. However, more often than not, they are minimalised or overlooked.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of sexually-explicit entertainment. For too long, social impacts have been subordinated to economic concerns, or else packaged together with moral concerns which the law says has no weighting.
The outcome? Sex shops and strip clubs are being set up everywhere and anywhere in our neighbourhoods, regardless of what the local community feels about it and how it might adversely affect people.
Dr Christopher J. Barrow - a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Wales in Swansea - has provided an excellent resource for community activists with his book, Social Impact Assessment: An Introduction
It shows how to persuade local government officials and town-planners to take proper notice of social concerns and to take full account of the important arguments put forward by opponents of, say, developers of sexually-explicit venues.
This sort of information is particularly relevant today for National Civic Council and Australian Family Association groups across Australia.
In Victoria, NCC and AFA groups have been frustrated recently to find that, when they have tried to fight against the establishment of brothels and sex shops in their localities, the decision-making no longer rests with local councils but has been handed over to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Dr Barrow's valuable work, however, shows how to argue legally on social grounds. This is a book for all people concerned with social and community action to read and use, in order to discover how to mobilise support from other community groups and organisations for worthy causes.
What the book teaches includes: the character, principles, aims and history of social impact assessment (SIA); the value of SIA in social development, policy-making, planning and the involvement of the public in decision-making; integrating SIA with planning, policy-making, social policy, ethics, law, regional planning and empowerment; challenges faced by SIA; the tools of SIA (methods and techniques); SIA in practice (weak and vulnerable groups, family strife, gender); and SIA in practice (rural development).
Dr Barrow makes the topic of social impact assessment accessible and readily understandable for those approaching the subject for the first time.