Health and wellbeing has never been more important to our world. In the face of the “new normal” we are becoming increasingly aware of how crucial it is for people to live and work in places which are designed to meet our wellbeing needs, and which enable us to have balanced and healthy lifestyles.
Health and wellbeing emerged as crucial planning concepts long before Covid-19 as policymakers sought proof that high-quality housing could help to alleviate medical issues. Designing healthy cities and neighbourhoods is not a new concept; in fact, it has been around for more than a century, and was a founding principle of Ebenezer Howard’s ‘New Towns’, which were designed to create healthier living environments.
Whilst overall life expectancy generally rises nationally, so do the statistics for life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, which puts additional demand on national services and resources. We see this today more than ever, as our healthcare services are put to the test of a century in the fight to keep those most vulnerable alive through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Designing healthy places may therefore take on a higher meaning when the crisis is over – or at least mitigated. Planning policy on health may become more streamlined, and the development process may look to achieve improved self-assessment when it comes to delivering healthy places. For now, we must embrace the tools that we have to measure and enhance the health determinants of placemaking. Health Impact Assessments (HIA) allow health and wellbeing to be considered in all policy forums; it is a flexible, collaborative and measurable method of implementing health principles, and has the power to influence the decision-making process at all levels. What it undoubtedly will have going forward is increased air time; it will therefore become a much more significant yardstick in determining the ‘planning balance’ of proposals.
The changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations in May 2017 clarify that ‘population and human health’ are on the list of topics that are considered in an EIA; another means of ensuring health is on the Impact agenda.
This sets the tone for national consideration of health in planning, especially in relation to strategic sites and developments that trigger the EIA thresholds. In particular, health has become a significant consideration in London’s planning policy requirements. The New London Plan Policy GG3 states that planning must assess the potential impact of development proposals through the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs).
Other planning authorities across the country are now also looking at ways to deliver healthy places. Whether it is through adoption of bespoke guidance (Essex Healthier Places Guidance), or adapting existing assessment frameworks to their respective circumstances, health in planning is here to stay.
Whilst it may be a forgotten concept to some, many planning authorities are now looking for major proposals (10+ residential units or 1,000sqm) to undertake HIAs. Will health and wellbeing in planning evolve? It is certainly going to be different.
Our Impact Management team is closely monitoring requirements for Health Impact Assessments nationally, and is able to provide bespoke advice.