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NHS chief commits to supporting ‘healthy new towns’

Words: Laura Edgar
Simon Stevens

The head of NHS England has announced plans today to create 10 NHS-supported “healthy new towns” across the country.

It is expected that the towns will provide 76,000 homes with the potential capacity for approximately 170,000 residents. 

NHS England received 114 applications for the Healthy New Towns programme last summer, from local authorities, housing associations, NHS organisation and housing developers.

The first 10 sites are:

Whitehall and Bordon, Hampshire – 3,350 homes on a former army barracks and will include a care campus

• Cranbrook, Devon – 8,000 new residential units

• Darlington – 2,500 residential unites

• Barking Riverside – 10,800 residential units on London’s largest brownfield site

• Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire, 1,400 residential units

• Halton Lea, Runcorn, 800 residential units

• Bicester, Oxon – 393 houses in the Elmsbrook project, part of 1,300 homes planned

• Northstowe, Cambridgeshire – 10,000 homes on former military land

• Ebbsfleet Garden City, Kent, up to 15,000 new homes

• Narton Park, Oxford – 885 residential units

More information about each healthy new town can be found on the NHS website.

Working with 10 housing developments, the NHS, supported by Public Health England, aims to shape the way the sites will develop and therefore test “creative solutions” for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, such as obesity, dementia and community cohesion.

The NHS said it is bringing together clinicians, designers and technology experts to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places by joining up the design of the built environment with modern health and care services.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, announced the plans to the Kings Fund in London today (1 March).

He said that the “much-needed push” to kick-start affordable housing across England “creates a golden opportunity” for the NHS to help promote health and keep people independent.

“As these new neighbourhoods and towns are built, we’ll kick ourselves if in 10 years’ time we look back having missed the opportunity to ‘design out’ the obesogenic environment, and ‘design in’ health and wellbeing.”

Stevens wants children to have places they can play with friends as well as being able to walk and cycle safely to school, “rather just exercising their fingers on video games”.

“We want to see neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible. And we want new ways of providing new types of digitally enabled local health services that share physical infrastructure and staff with schools and community groups.”

Victoria Pinoncely, RTPI research officer said the programme "rightly" recognises the important role of the built and natural environment in influencing pressing health challenges such as obesity, poor mental health and physical inactivity.

"In order to deliver healthy environments, it is important to look at different scales, considering the good design of neighbourhood spaces but also understanding where new development takes place (something the RTPI’s Location of Development programme will be looking at) as remote locations without the right transport infrastructure can encourage car-use at the expense of physical activity, for instance.”

Hugo Stevens, housing partner at law firm Bevan Brittan, said that while the programme will “breathe new life” into efforts to integrate resources so that public, private and voluntary organisations can work together in the interests of improved wellbeing, “developers will need to be assured that the right financial and legal structures and governance are in place before they can be persuaded to join new enterprises and partnerships”.

He called the announcement a “helpful step” along the path of acknowledging that improving health “requires a multi agency approach and innovation around collaborations and funding solutions”.

“Importantly it should be remembered that each pilot area is very different, and a model that works in one area may not work in another.”

Speaking at the RTPI Planning Convention last year about the Healthy New Town’s programme, which had just begun, NHS England chairman Professor Sir Malcolm Grant said it wanted to work on a “a more advanced model of settlement … one that interacts with the health of its occupants”.

“We want to inject our hopes for the NHS into these new models for development. And we want to re-inject health into planning”.

More from Grant's presentation at the convention can be found here.