Over the last year, good health has come to mean so much more than the absence of disease. As well as bringing about a fresh perspective of our understanding of health, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought about a new consideration of how our homes and living environments should function and adapt to enable people to live healthier lives, whether this be provision of private amenity space, or access to services and amenities. As we face the challenges this presents, Iceni explores how planning policy might respond to ensure that good health is treated as a priority in all future developments.
As we transition into a post-COVID world, policymakers have an opportunity to re-align the focus of prioritising health in planning policy. To some degree, the Government have confirmed their commitment through the revision of Paragraph 7 of the updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (2021), which now includes reference to pursuing the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These goals undoubtedly include a range of health related indicators, none more so than Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. However, the extent to which this will be achieved in practice is yet to be seen. One possibility is through the Town and Country Planning Association’s proposed Healthy Homes Bill. If this Bill is made into legislation, it could ensure that ‘Healthy Homes principles’ are achieved when planning permission is granted. This would be a positive step for ensuring that high quality homes are built, that do not undermine resident’s health and well-being.
The need to deliver homes that provide positively for the health of the individual that lives there is nothing new. This can be seen in the use of minimum space standards which have applied in some form in planning since 1967, and BRE Environmental Assessment criteria have been used since 1990. However, more recently, the requirement for applicants to undertake a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as part of the planning application process has gained traction. This applies not only to applications in London, where an HIA is recommended for developments of a certain size under Policy GC3: Creating a Healthy City of the 2021 London Plan, but also as new Local Plans are adopted across the country, the requirement is increasingly present.
The purpose of an HIA is to assess the potential health effects of development on the general population and any vulnerable groups. It provides an opportunity to identify and mitigate against any negative health impacts, such as lack of affordable housing provision, and to maximise any positive health impacts that a proposed development may generate, such as providing opportunities to grow food, ideally at an early stage of the design process. This is achieved through assessing a development against a range of determinants such as housing design, open space requirements, air quality, noise, energy or community and social infrastructure provision that all contribute to creating healthy environments.
Much like how good health has come to mean so much more, so too has the relationship between the built environment and positive health outcomes. As we learn from the pandemic, it can be anticipated that the need and requirement for these health-focused assessments will only increase, and from our experience HIAs are an effective tool. In doing so, this will integrate, prioritise, and focus health into all planning decisions and ultimately help to deliver healthier homes and better places.
Please get in touch with Iceni’s Impact Team if you need any guidance in navigating the requirements for HIAs.