New venture looking to put social value at the heart of development and regeneration

RealWorth aims to persuade policy makers, developers, investors and planners to tackle inequality and reduce environmental deterioration. Tony McDonough reports.

The built environment can have a huge impact on peoples' lives but developers often only look at return on investment. Picture by Tony McDonough
The built environment can have a huge impact on peoples’ lives but developers often only look at return on investment. Picture by Tony McDonough

When a developer considers a new project often the overriding consideration is return on investment – it is a decision untainted by emotion.

However, the “built environment” in any locality has a huge impact on the people who have to live and work within it.

Failed campaign

We have seen this in Liverpool in recent times where buildings with historical significance are pulled down to make way for what many people feel are featureless blocks.

A whole campaign sprang up to save the facade of the former Futurist Cinema in Lime Street, which was earmarked for demolition as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme.

The campaign failed, the facade now demolished – but it demonstrated how, for many people, the built environment has major significance.

New venture

Now a university professor and leading expert in renewable building and an international commercial development director have formed a new venture to enable organisations to put a price on social and environmental change and help them “make better and more sustainable decisions”.

Professor Erik Bichard and Phil Higham have launched North West-based company RealWorth, founded on a new approach called Sustainable Return on Investment (SuROI).

SuROI places a monetary value on social and environmental change, enabling clients such as policy makers, developers, investors and planners to tackle inequality and reduce environmental deterioration.

Their aim is to help create a future where everyone’s quality of life is improved because social and environmental impacts are fully valued in every policy, investment and development decision.

Wider focus

Liverpool-based Professor Bichard is an expert in regeneration and sustainable development and a former executive director of the UK National Centre for Business and Sustainability.

He said: “While conventional methods of valuation used by built environment professionals mainly focus on the market-based and the physical, SuROI puts a value on the social and environmental changes experienced by the very people who are affected by policies, investments and development decisions.

Phil Higham, left, and Erik Bichard, founders of RealWorth
Phil Higham, left, and Erik Bichard, founders of RealWorth

“We do this by focusing on several key areas including health, crime, skills, employment, wellbeing and ecology.

“Change is often best understood through the people who experience it. This is why SuROI is a stakeholder-led process.”

Redress the shortfall

Mr Higham is a chartered surveyor, with a career in international development and leadership roles at companies including Laing O’Rourke and Rider Levett Bucknall.

He added: “We have always thought that society fails to value the importance of social and environmental factors when making decisions that affect people’s lives. Our business has been created to redress this shortfall.”

The company has already secured a contract with an innovative social enterprise in Pittsburgh that empowers local people to improve the environmental conditions of their underinvested neighbourhoods.

Professor Bichard and Phil Higham are also in the final stages of negotiations to be appointed as key advisors to one of the largest mixed use development schemes in the north of England.

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