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Putting health into place

According to the British Medical Association, 50 per cent of all GP appointments are for illness that could have been avoided. Not only is this economically disastrous for the NHS, it represents a shocking amount of needless suffering.

As a nation, we cannot continue in this way: we have to help people avoid becoming ill as far as possible.

Creating healthy places has, to some extent, always been part of planning’s remit. Yet many relatively new developments are places in which it is difficult for residents to make healthy choices, and particularly hard for people who are old, frail or unwell, have low incomes, or are of school age.

NHS England has published Putting Health into Place – four free publications that set out a practical approach to creating places that are planned, designed and managed to help their residents stay healthy for longer – and, when they do need healthcare, to provide 21st-century services that are significantly different from the GP-and-hospital model that has dominated the NHS since its inception.

Written by the TCPA, the King’s Fund and the Young Foundation, with input from NHS England, Public Health England and others, the publications draw on what has been learned from NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme. Ten principles set out the process of creating healthier new places.

So what’s new for planners? Throughout, there is a strong emphasis on understanding the health of the local population in the area to be developed, and, crucially, ensuring that the new development will help the least healthy – often the least well off.

“Providing cycle paths is important, but so is ensuring that footpaths have benches”

For instance, if local kids have nowhere to play and as a result are not active enough for good health, could the development provide a play space before the new homes are built? This was achieved at Whitehill & Bordon, one of the Healthy New Town demonstrator sites, where the Hogmoor Inclosure was created in an early phase of development. It is a beautiful and accessible natural green space designed for all ages, with an exciting natural play area for kids, and safe places for people with dementia.

Focusing on parts of the population whose needs are greatest is vital when planning active travel, too. Providing cycle paths is important, but so too is ensuring that footpaths have benches so that the least-fit people have confidence that if they walk to their destination they can rest along the way.

Details such as this can seem insignificant when planning and delivering a large development over many decades. Yet, surprisingly often, relatively inexpensive details can make the difference between a place that helps its population live well, and one that doesn’t.

Julia Thrift is projects and operations director for the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA)

Image credit | iStock


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