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Healthy collaboration: Why planners and health professionals should work together

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Aimee Stimpson discusses why planners and health care professionals need to work together to create healthy places for people to live

Research on the wider determinants of people’s health suggests that around 50 per cent of people’s health is affected by socio-environmental factors. To improve the nation’s health we need those working in the built and natural environment professions, including town planners, to create healthy places. Public health teams appreciate the established history of the town planning profession in creating high-quality places and environments for people to live, work and play. Indeed, the origins of the agenda began with a joined-up approach between planning, housing and health.

“We must work towards a shared common understanding of what we believe makes up a healthy place”

Only since public health duties moved back to local government in 2013, have concerns for health and widening social inequalities such as life expectancy, been increasingly included in plans and strategies. That is why public health professionals working in government agencies such as Public Health England (PHE) and its regional centres are keen to support planners by adding value to the planning process.

We must work towards a shared common understanding of what we believe makes up a healthy place, based on robust evidence of the relationship between the environment and health outcomes such as physical and mental health. PHE’s spatial planning and health evidence resource identified five aspects of the built and natural environment that can underpin local plan policies and development proposals: neighbourhood design, housing, better food, natural and sustainable environment, and transport.  

There may be a feeling that the planning system already reflects these aspects, as the Town and Country Planning Association’s State of the Union report found in its review of all English local plans.

PHE welcomes the NPPF’s commitment since 2012 to recognise its role in promoting healthy communities. Initiatives such as the Garden Communities and Healthy New Towns programmes and commitments in the recent NHS Long Term Plan are helping to shift expectations on built environment standards.  

PHE’s Healthy Places programme, launched in November 2013, now includes five strands straddling planning, housing, natural environment, transport and nationally significant infrastructure projects. The focus is to convert evidence into both policy and practice by working across the national and local systems and engaging with the development sector. We will focus on actions that have the best potential to cut health inequalities as places are planned, designed and operated –  for people now and for future generations.

Aimee Stimpson is Public Health England’s national lead for healthy places

Photo | iStock


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