Measuring net community benefit in planning: an economist’s perspective

Monday 24 May 2021
13:00-14:30 AEST

PIA Member $45 / Non-member $60 (inc. GST)

The ultimate goal of planning, design and transport policies and decisions is to maximise community welfare. However, there is limited guidance for planners on how welfare or ‘net community benefit’ should be measured or assessed. As a result, a range of ad hoc and idiosyncratic approaches are used.


By contrast, the welfare impacts of major infrastructure projects, policies and other government programs are routinely assessed using cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is an appraisal approach grounded in welfare economics. CBA requires the full range of social, environmental and economic costs and benefits of the policy or program to be identified and measured. It is not just concerned with resources, cash flows and profits as some might assume.


SGS routinely applies the CBA framework when evaluating a wide range of planning and design policies and would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the virtues of this approach to other practitioners. 


Through this workshop, we will show how CBA can provide a rigorous, transparent and reliable methodology for assessing the merits of planning and design policies, grounded in the net community benefit concept. We will also discuss some of the limitations and controversies associated with CBA.

We are providing a 90-minute training session that will provide planners and other practitioners with an understanding of the central tenets of CBA and the basic skills to assess net community benefit. The sessions will run as follows: 

• Fundaments of cost-benefit analysis: welfare economics; metrics (15 mins)
• Step-by-step guide to assessing net community benefit via CBA (30 mins)
• Techniques for valuing the impacts of planning and design policies (10 mins)
• Case studies of net community benefit assessment (15 mins)
• Limitations of CBA and alternative evaluation techniques (5 mins)
• Discussion and Q&A (15 mins) 

Target audience
The workshop will be aimed at planners and other practitioners who want to understand how net community benefit can be measured and assessed using a widely accepted framework (CBA) and various valuation techniques. We would anticipate attendees will be interested in understanding this highly regarded perspective on ‘net community benefit’, how it can be measured, and how this technique might be used in the design and appraisal of plans and policies to ensure they optimise community welfare.

James Atkinson PIA (Assoc.)

SGS Economics and Planning

James is an economist with post-graduate qualifications in urban planning. He has specialist expertise in various forms of economic analysis, most notably cost benefit analysis, or CBA. During his time at SGS, he has gained experience applying the CBA framework to a wide array of scenarios as part of applications for grant funding, business cases and more. In addition, he has been instrumental in the development of a new CBA-based framework for measuring and assessing the net welfare effects of electronic gaming machine proposals within Victoria.
James has a keen interest in promoting a better understanding of the key principles of ‘welfare economics’ across a range of professions, including planning. He sees this as vital in helping to ensure Governments continue to enact policies that optimise welfare within Australian communities.

Andrew Spencer PIA (Assoc.)

SGS Economics and Planning

Andrew professional practice span planning, urban design and urban economics in private and public sector roles.  His is deeply interested how design, policy and markets interact to shape our cities.


At SGS Economics and Planning Andrew as contributed to a wide range of assignments involving planning for housing and employment, economic appraisals, feasibility studies, affordable housing, development contributions and value capture.  


Andrew has led social cost benefit analyses of key planning policy initiatives including the Victoria Better Apartment Design Standards, the central Melbourne built form and value capture policies, increased housing densities in Melbourne’s greenfields, and design standards for apartments in Western Australia. 


Before joining SGS Andrew held roles in the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, the Urban Design Advisory Service, HASSELL, COX and the NSW Urban Cities Taskforce.

In 2020 he commenced a PhD at RMIT on valuing the intangibles of city planning.