Opinion Former Article

Healthy placemaking urged of new housing

Future housing developments must focus more on creating ‘healthy’ places to live that encourage walking and cycling, according to a report published today.

The Design Council and research group Social Change UK say healthy placemaking could save lives and reduce costs and pressures on the NHS. They stress that environments where we live and work have a major impact on our health, yet the UK continues to design and build unhealthy places.

As Government looks to build 300,000 homes a year, never has there been a more important time to encourage the design of healthy places, they say. But their survey of over 600 built environment professionals reveals that healthy placemaking sits on the periphery of UK housing, public health and placemaking policy and continues to be seen as a cost to local development rather than an investment.

The survey found that restrictions placed by highway guidance and highway authorities can make it difficult to design and develop places that support health and wellbeing. It was also reported that the vision for healthy places does not always translate into delivery of projects on the ground.

Recommendations to create healthier places include making neighbourhood walking easier, encouraging the use of healthy transport modes, designing well connected places that provide access to amenities, offering better access to parks and reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.

To achieve this, Government is urged to make sure healthy placemaking runs throughout the revised National Planning Policy Framework and that local authorities introduce healthy placemaking across all local and neighbourhood plans.

Built environment practitioners and developers are also asked to promote and demonstrate a firm commitment to healthy placemaking.

“With ever increasing pressures on the NHS to fight preventable health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, we need to consider new ways to fight this growing health epidemic,” said Design Council chief executive Sarah Weir.

“We want to fully understand what stops those who design and build the places that we live and work in making us healthier and happier. Despite the evidence, healthy placemaking is often sidelined and seen as a cost. This has to change.”

Social Change UK chief executive Kelly Hunstone added: “We believe a lot of health and social issues can be solved by designing healthier neighbourhoods. They want access to green spaces and cycle paths and the kind of environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle and happier life.

“This should be the right of everyone and not the few. I urge decision makers involved in the design and construction of villages, towns and cities to put healthy placemaking top of the agenda.”

CIHT President Andreas Markides, who is hosting the Institution’s ‘Transport, Cities & Places’ Learned Society event tomorrow evening, agreed that more needs to be done to place healthy placemaking at the heart of new developments.

He said: “Creating better and healthier places is the responsibility of every professional. Transport planners and highway engineers are uniquely placed to influence the places that are being created. As a profession we should encourage this way of thinking.”

♦ CIHT's Sustainable Transport Panel has established a steering group with key partners to produce practical guidelines on how to deliver better planning for transport and new developments.

Get the planning right and improvements – including better health – will follow, the guidelines are expected to say. A stakeholder event is being held today (18 April) which will look at this and associated issues ahead of expected publication this summer.

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