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Report: Clearer priorities needed when planning for health

Words: Laura Edgar
Aligning health and planning / iStock-643644662

Local authorities and their health partners should set out their expectations on what planning for health means, a report has recommended. This could be the use of proportionate and relevant health assessments in local policy.

Currently, local planning policies are weak when it comes to taking account of local health strategies and health needs assessment, despite this being a requirement in national policy. The extent to which they require the use of health impact assessments in planning applications is also weak. Most do though make explicit links to health and wellbeing outcomes in transport, open space, recreation and design.

The State of the Union: Reuniting Health with Planning in Promoting Healthy Communities, published by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), considers the effectiveness of the collaboration between planning, public health and healthcare bodies, mostly in England and Wales. It includes a review of local plans and local development plans created by local authorities in the two countries; the results of workshops held; and a number of case studies, including some based on fast-food takeaways and diet-related health concerns.

Michael Chang MRTPI, project and policy manager at the TCPA, said: “This report provides a snapshot of planning policy and practice across England and Wales on health and wellbeing issues. Much has been achieved by practitioners up and down the country since the planning reforms, which led to the NPPF, and public health responsibilities moving back into local government in England.

The report suggests that while health considerations are well recognised and embedded in the planning process, through local plans in England and local development plans in Wales, there is still a worrying lack of connection to the statutory health priorities set out by health and wellbeing boards."

Chang acknowledged that practitioners are doing their best amidst resource cuts and constant reforms in the planning and health systems, as well as a lack of clarity around areas such as health service provision.

The report states that an effective integrated approach to planning for health requires health professionals and planners in local authorities "to take an approach that works across and within the established systems and structures of government and health administrative boundaries". In the current landscape, this would be most effective when it is embedded into the plans of the sustainability and transformation partnerships and the health and wellbeing boards.

The report further sets out the following recommendations:

  • National government should make support for the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals and the population a specific legal purpose of spatial and land use planning, implemented through future town and country planning legislation.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should work with the Department of Health and Social Care and its health agencies to improve and maintain the primacy of health and wellbeing considerations in national planning guidance. This can be achieved by making the use of health impact assessments a policy requirement.
  • In discharging the duty to cooperate, local planning authorities and healthcare commissioners should develop joint statements or plans regarding planning for local healthcare needs.
  • Local planning authorities should specifically refer to local health needs evidence when developing their local plans or local development plans.
  • Local authorities should explore the business case for creating a dedicated public health planning post, with responsibilities across planning, public health and healthcare.

Image credit | iStock