Delivering Healthy Places

Despite the National Planning Policy Framework that specifically identifies the need for ‘vibrant and healthy communities with accessible services that support their health, social and cultural well-being’, how many new places truly cater for our wellbeing?

A small number are being delivered, but I believe we should be positioning health higher up the design agenda when it comes to creating new places, with incentives acknowledging this. Why wouldn’t we, when this fits hand in hand with ‘sustainability’ in placemaking and could also help provide the answer to many of today’s health issues which are on the increase – such as obesity, depression and ADHD.

New development offers us a huge opportunity to deliver improvements to the built environment for existing and future populations. High quality, health-oriented place can be implemented, if a thorough understanding of the delivery mechanisms and technical issues are incorporated at the masterplanning stage and subsequently funds to deliver what was agreed in the planning application can be released from land value.

How are developments providing the best opportunity to deliver healthy places and what are the challenges for developers?

I’ve recently worked on a number of health-led masterplans including a new 400 home neighbourhood for Barratt Homes and a new 4,500 home community for Persimmon and Bovis. Although different in scale, there are a number of similarities between the two, including the fact that both are structured around multifunctional green infrastructure.

The larger of the two schemes is arranged on a polycentric structure which consists of overlapping neighbourhoods to promote access to key facilities on foot, bike and bus. A central spine forms the hub of the informal recreational space and links the urban form to the wider provision of formalised playing fields via green connections with community orchards, allotments and natural play along ‘golden routes’ through the development. The range of architectural styles, types and tenures, accompanied by the layout of buildings, streets and public spaces continue to maximise social interaction, accessibility to services and opportunities to promote mental health and wellbeing.

Long term management and governance of these places has to be considered and the establishment of a community trust is an innovative way of making this a success. Barratt Homes propose to provide this on their scheme as a way to not only protect the community assets for the future but also to initially realise them.

The land supply challenge…

The current value and availability of land makes delivery challenging for any developer. To deliver high quality housing with a sustainable provision of services in a healthy and desirable environment takes significant investment and therefore it is clear that the project needs to be above a certain size to achieve critical mass, be in the right location to meet demand and have the ability to generate sufficient value from the land. The problem with the current speculative model of land promotion in the UK is that it is heavily weighted towards the landowner in fiscal benefit terms. This coupled with the short-term politicised housing land supply agenda creates a recipe for poorly planned, poorly funded and poorly designed developments.

Local authorities need to recognise their role in the speculative land market. Proactively planning for long term housing needs and taking full account of the delays in the process as well as seeking to avoid a monopoly in any given location, this can go a long way towards stabilising land price, giving a better opportunity for healthy developments to be delivered.

Key lessons for delivering high quality healthy places

  • Local authorities leading with the identification of ample strategic land for growth of settlements
  • Health as a core planning agenda
  • Establish the viability of the design elements at the outset
  • Alternative models of management
  • Developing a common shared interest for stakeholders in healthy places
  • Utilising best practice and local creative solutions

James has co-authored the chapter “Delivering Healthy Places” in a ground breaking new book, the Routledge ‘Handbook of Planning for Health and Well-Being’. Aimed at decision-makers in control of urban planning, transport policy and how our cities are developed, this handbook authoritatively and comprehensively integrates health into all aspects of urban planning, strengthening the hands of those who argue and plan for healthy environments.

With contributions from international leaders in the field, the ‘Handbook of Planning for Health and Well-being’ provides context, philosophy, research, processes, and tools of experienced practitioners from four continents. The editors are Hugh Barton, Susan Thompson, Sarah Burgess and Marcus Grant.

Your Comments

very timely intervention given today’s announcement about planning for development on ‘brownfields’. How are we going to ensure healthy developments without planning? We at the Land Trust I am pleased to say are working with many developers ensuring that place making happens and that good governance of the Green Infrastructure is in place to deliver healthy environments

By Euan Hall

Refreshing to read this sort of artcile which sadly seems at odds with the current anti-planning agenda / rhetoric of government and most volume house builders.

By Reader

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