Skip to main content

Putting Health & Wellbeing at the Heart of Neighbourhood Planning

Making the case for health and wellbeing in Neighbourhood Planning
The planning system's origins can be traced back to public health policies from the nineteenth century. Increases in population and the growth of towns created public health problems, and early legislation focused on creating sanitary conditions. 

There is a sense that in recent decades planning has lost its way with health, yet our modern environments continue to have profound effects on our health and well-being. In the blog post What stops us from creating healthier places? author Rachel Toms notes that overall, the planning system has done a good job of designing infectious diseases out of the places in which people live, but has "inadvertently contributed to sedentary lifestyles, mental distress and social isolation".

Whilst the planning system has cured the public health problems of the industrial revolution, it faces a new set of public health challenges for the modern era.

In this post, I make the case for prioritising health and wellbeing through Neighbourhood Plans.

Health challenges

The World Health Organisation estimates that globally, 12.6 million people die each year as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment.

In the UK, some of the nation’s greatest health challenges, such as obesity, heart disease, physical inactivity and mental health issues are greatly influenced by how we live our day-to-day lives, which is often as a result of how the places we live are planned.

The government’s Guide to Available Disability Data, shows that by 2021 more than 29% of households will include a person aged over 65. In addition, almost 30% of existing households include a person with long term illness or disability.

Britain has an ageing population. The government's data shows that the number of households with a person aged over 65 will increase by 20% in the decade 2011-2021.

A quarter of the UK's homes have no ‘visitability features’ such as level access, flush threshold (i.e. no obstruction to wheelchairs), sufficiently wide doors and circulation space, or a WC at entrance level. Just 5.3% of the nation’s housing stock provides all four visitability features.

The national data suggests the existing housing stock may not meet the accessibility needs of all occupants, and the issue could be compounded by a trend of an ageing population and older people remaining in their homes for longer.

The "New Town Blues"

Cambourne, located 10 miles west of Cambridge, was planned and developed as a new settlement. Last month marked 20 years since the first residents moved into the development. The Cambourne development provides an extreme example of how the planning system can directly affect people's mental health and well-being.

Distress was observed across the community and not only in socially disadvantaged people or people known to have mental illness. Services were coming under strain, and practitioners struggled to meet needs of both adults and children moving into Cambourne. This led the group to question whether there is something about the "New Town" environment that  contributes to the mental distress observed.

Cambourne suffered from a lack of facilities and support necessary to create networks, friendships and social cohesion. For a long time after the first residents arrived there was no meeting place in Cambourne. The school and the medical practice offered limited facilities for groups but no casual meeting space existed; there was no place in which people could meet to chat, or bring their children and get together. For many people, access to existing support networks, such as family and friends, had been disrupted by their move to Cambourne.

The lack of social infrastructure and support for development of communities contributed to high levels of mental distress and increased risk for the most vulnerable. Practitioners described a disturbing level of unhappiness. Children in the new schools felt “bereavement” from losing their former lives. Many people turned to drugs and alcohol to ease their sense of loneliness and unhappiness. Episodes of violence erupted, and some residents experienced extreme intimidation.

Putting health and wellbeing at the heart of Neighbourhood Planning

There are many ways in which the places we live can affect our health, and Cambourne provides just one example of what can go wrong. The Cambourne example illustrates that to deliver good health, new developments need to do far more than provide access to play areas or outdoor gyms.
The group of practitioners in the Cambourne example identified that the lack of facilities for people to meet and establish new networks and friendships directly impacted on people's happiness and mental health. The group made specific recommendations to support mental health and wellbeing in new communities, including:
  • Ensure that the concept of social and community development is considered alongside physical developments. 
  • Community facilities must be available from the start, alongside schools and health provision. 
  • Provision of infrastructure for social cohesion should be kept under review and ensure any deficiencies are resolved during the later phases of the build.
  • Involve existing communities in the planning of the new/ next phase of development.
Lessons have been learned from the experience of Cambourne, and the nearby 'New Town' development at Northstowe, Cambridgeshire has been designed to meet the principles of the NHS's 'Healthy New Towns' programme.

Earlier this month, the NHS published a collection of documents which present the findings from its Healthy New Towns programme. The programme explored a number of interesting case studies of new developments, and sets out ten principles to create healthier places:
  • Plan ahead collectively
  • Assess local health and care needs and assets
  • Connect, involve and empower people and communities
  • Create compact neighbourhoods
  • Maximise active travel
  • Inspire and enable healthy eating
  • Foster health in homes and buildings
  • Enable healthy play and leisure
  • Develop health services that help people stay well
  • Create integrated health and wellbeing centres

The focus of the NHS programme is on addressing health in 'New Town' developments and its principles and recommendations go far beyond the plan-making process, requiring the involvement of many different professionals and agencies. Neighbourhood Plans are prepared by established communities and most are unlikely to need to plan for new communities like Cambourne or Northstowe. However, it is possible to incorporate the Healthy New Town principles into neighbourhood planning to address health in a joined up way.

Drawing inspiration from the NHS's ten principles and the Cambourne example, a Neighbourhood Plan could address health and wellbeing in the following ways:

  • Be informed by evidence of local health needs and issues, such as the 'Joint Strategic Housing Needs' Assessment' (JSNA) for the area. 
  • Consult a range of different stakeholders and agencies involved in planning and delivering health services, and have regard to plans and strategies for the provision of local health services to ensure the needs of the community are met over the plan period.
  • Require new developments to undertake Health Impact Assessments and encourage developers to work in partnership with planners and health services.
  • Use design policies or a Design Code to set requirements for new developments and neighbourhoods. These should ensure development is well-connected, promote active lifestyles through encouraging walking and cycling, and ensure local services and public transport are supported. 
  • Provide new (and maintain existing) open spaces, sports and recreation facilities and provide access to the countryside. Consideration should be given to how open spaces can encourage healthy eating, such as by providing allotments, orchards and urban growing spaces.
  • Provide homes and neighbourhoods which meet the needs of all occupants and users, including the elderly, people with disabilities and long-term illness. This can be achieved through existing standards and tool-kits, for example the Optional Technical Housing Standard for accessible and adaptable dwellings and wheelchair dwellings as set out in Parts M4(2) & (3) of the Building Regulations; and the Dementia Friendly Communities checklist.
  • Reduce exposure to pollutants and hazards, such as flood risk and air pollution. Sticking with the Cambridgeshire theme of this post, in the county in 2010 there were 257 deaths attributed to air pollution.
  • Ensure new development is integrated with the existing community, and create opportunities for people to mix and create new friendships and networks.
For real examples of policies from recent Neighbourhood Plans which deliver health benefits, see my briefing note, prepared jointly with the National Association of Local Councils, Neighbourhood Planning and Community Health and Wellbeing.

Gaining support from the wider community

What sets Neighbourhood Plans apart from other aspects of the planning system is that they are produced by the community the plan serves. 

Preparing a Neighbourhood Plan requires the support and involvement of the local people, many of whom may have little understanding of the planning system.

Many of the principles for improving health also deliver other sustainability objectives. For example, rhetoric around encouraging walking and cycling has tended to focus on the importance of reducing carbon emissions, rather than the health benefits such a shift in behaviour can bring. However, concepts such as 'sustainability' may be totally alien to many people.

Conversely, health is an issue which everyone can relate to and can get behind. By expressing the Neighbourhood Plan's benefits in terms of its positive effects on health may help more people understand and engage in the plan.


Popular posts from this blog

Housing Delivery Test 2019 Results Published

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has now published the latest results of its Housing Delivery Test (HDT), based on the number of new homes built in the period 2016 to 2019.

The HDT 2019 measurement for each council area is provided in the searchable table below.
How the Housing Delivery Test is calculated The HDT calculates the number of new homes built, as a percentage of the number of homes needed over the past three years. MHCLG re-calculates an HDT figure annually for every council area in England. The new 2019 measurement replaces the previous 2018 measurement.
Consequences of the Housing Delivery Test The purpose of the HDT is to hold local authorities to account over the supply of new housing.

Where the HDT shows the delivery of new homes has fallen below 95% of the district or borough's housing requirement over the previous three years, the council should prepare an Action Plan to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to…

1,000th Neighbourhood Plan marks continued growth of neighbourhood planning

February 2020 saw an important milestone achieved, with the total number of approved Neighbourhood Plans reaching 1,000.
About the Planfinder data All Things Neighbourhood Planning's Planfinder app provides the data source for this blog post.

The Planfinder is a database of all Neighbourhood Plans which have successfully passed referendum. The Planfinder is maintained and updated regularly from ATNP's own research and monitoring of Neighbourhood Plan progress.

Joint Neighbourhood Plans (i.e. covering multiple parishes) and Neighbourhood Plans crossing a local authority boundary (i.e. forming part of the development plan in multiple local authority areas), are counted only once.

The Neighbourhood Plan data described in this post also includes Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders, as these are closely related to Neighbourhood Plans, follow a similar process in their preparation, and also fall under the 'umbrella' term of neighbourhood pla…

Why the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan failed

News that the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan was rejected at referendum has spread rapidly across social media and has even been picked up by local and national press - see BBC article.

The story has garnered a lot of attention as it is highly unusual for a Neighbourhood Plan to be rejected. The Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan is only the third Neighbourhood Plan not to be supported by residents.

At the referendum held on 14 March 2019, the Neighbourhood Plan was rejected, albeit by a very slim margin of just 22 votes.
'No' Campaign Prior to the referendum, Labour town councillors led a campaign which encouraged local people to vote against the Neighbourhood Plan. 
Based on the literature shared by the campaign group, opposition to the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan appears to be pointed at three key issues: Impacts on the town and its infrastructure of the overall scale of growth Middlewich is expected deliverDisagreement with the individual sites identified by the Neighbourhood …

Neighbourhood Plan Review: Plans made in July 2019

Neighbourhood Plans provide a bespoke planning framework for the local area. No two plans are alike, although many have similar characteristics and address common themes. This post provides a short summary of those Neighbourhood Plans which successfully passed referendum in July 2019, highlighting the elements which make each plan locally specific and unique.

The purpose of this post is to celebrate the achievement of those communities in successfully preparing their Neighbourhood Plans, and to share the interesting ideas and policies for the benefit of others who are currently writing their plans. Links to the Neighbourhood Plans are provided throughout the post.
Navigate this post using the map July was a busy month, with a whopping 24 Neighbourhood Plans successfully passing referendum. To  make it easier to navigate this post, the location of the areas covered by each new Neighbourhood Plan are shown on the interactive map. Click on a marker to reveal a link to the plan's su…

Review of Planning Appeal: The tricky task of planning for housing development - Wingerworth Neighbourhood Plan

I previously posted about why it is important to include policies and site allocations for housing, in order to "presumption-proof" your Neighbourhood Plan. A recent planning appeal (APP/R1038/W/17/3192255), which resulted in the granting of planning permission for 180 homes at Wingerworth, Derbyshire, illustrates the importance of making provision for housing development in a Neighbourhood Plan.

North East Derbyshire Council ranks settlements in a hierarchy. Wingerworth is located firmly in the middle of the hierarchy as a "Settlement with good levels of sustainability", so presumably has some merits as a location for housing development.

The Wingerworth Neighbourhood Plan (WNP) successfully passed the referendum stage in June 2018. The WNP includes a number of policies which relate to the provision of housing development, for example:

Policy W1 defines a settlement development limit around the built area of Wingerworth village, offering in principle support to de…

How the Housing Delivery Test can affect Neighbourhood Plans

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has today published the results of the Housing Delivery Test (HDT).

**NEW - try my Housing Delivery Test Checker tool to see results for your area**

The HDT was first mooted by the Housing White Paper, back in February 2017. The HDT calculates the number of new homes built, as a percentage of the number of homes needed over the past three years. MHCLG has published a HDT figure for every council area in England, and indicates it will re-calculate the HDT annually.

The purpose of the HDT is to hold local authorities to account over the supply of new housing.

Where the HDT shows the delivery of new homes has fallen below 95% of the district or borough's housing requirement over the previous three years, the council should prepare an Action Plan to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to increase delivery in future years.

Where the HDT shows a district's housing delivery is less than 85%, the c…

The Neighbourhood Plan 'League Table'

My last blog post, 1,000th Neighbourhood Plan marks continued growth of neighbourhood planning, illustrates the growth of Neighbourhood Plans over recent years.

Exploring the data further, this blog post breaks down the total number of approved plans by Local Planning Authority area. Presenting the data in this way highlights the marked differences in the take up of neighbourhood planning in different areas. About the dataThe table (below) has been populated using data from my Planfinder app, and is based on the same dataset used in my 1,000th Neighbourhood Plan... blog post. The data includes plans which successfully passed referendum before the end of February 2020, therefore any plans which passed referendum over the past couple of weeks are not included - although you can find details of these on the Planfinder app.

The sum total of the number of approved plans shown in the table exceeds 1,000, as a small number of plans cross local planning authority boundaries and are therefore…

Just how big is an infill site? Appeal decision: Chinnor, Oxfordshire

An appeal decision initially caught my eye due to its surprising interpretation of 'infill development' -  but also raises some concerning issues around how Neighbourhood Plan policies are applied during the decision-making process.

The appeal relates to an application for the construction of up to 140 dwellings, new public open space, associated landscaping and site infrastructure on a 3.9ha site at Chinnor, Oxfordshire. The application was made by Persimmon Homes and initially refused by South Oxfordshire District Council. The appeal was allowed, meaning the Planning Inspector went against the district council's decision grant planning permission for the scheme. Details of the appeal can be found using the following reference APP/Q3115/W/17/3187058. Neighbourhood Plan & Development Plan Chinnor is a large village in Oxfordshire. The Chinnor Neighbourhood Plan (CNP) was 'made' in October 2017. When the appeal commenced, the Neighbourhood Plan was less than one…

Updated Neighbourhood Plan Finder

Hundreds of Neighbourhood Plans have passed referendum and are being made across the country. It can therefore be tricky to keep track of which areas have plans in force.

All Things Neighbourhood Planning's Neighbourhood Plan Finder tool can help you quickly and simply locate Neighbourhood Plans.

Select a local authority area from the Neighbourhood Plan Finder to reveal a list of Neighbourhood Plans in force in the area.

The Neighbourhood Plan Finder includes web links to view and download the plan, therefore providing a comprehensive directory of Neighbourhood Plans.

For groups writing Neighbourhood Plans, the Neighbourhood Plan Finder can help you to find other local examples of plans which have completed the process. The Finder will also help applicants and decision-makers to locate Neighbourhood Plans which may affect their proposals.

Try the Neighbourhood Plan Finder now.

Alternatively, view locations with Neighbourhood Plans in force on the interactive map.

Need for homes trumps valued landscapes. Review of appeal decision: Farnham Neighbourhood Plan

An appeal decision at land west of Folly Hill, Folly Hill, Farnham (appeal reference: APP/R3650/W/17/3171409) illustrates the delicate and complex issue of determining whether a Neighbourhood Plan is or is not 'out-of-date' and the effect this has on applying the 'tilted balance'.

The appeal decision was issued in December 2018, granting planning permission for 96 dwellings, including 38 affordable, with areas of open space, Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANGS); children’s play area; SuDS attenuation; highway works and a new access. 
The appeal site is located within the Borough of Waverley, Surrey, and the Farnham Neighbourhood Area. Development Plan The Farnham Neighbourhood Plan (FNP) was made in July 2017, and was therefore less than a year and a half old at the time the decision was issued.
During the course of the appeal, the Waverley Local Plan Part 1 (WLPP1) was adopted. This is, in effect, 'half' of a Local Plan setting out strategic polici…