Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Planning and Health

In recent times there has been much hand wringing about the state of the nations's health. More sedentary life styles and increased affluence has helped fuel what many perceive as an explosion in obesity. There has even been talk that the average age at death statistics that have been rising for well over 100 years, may start turning in the other direction. Either way the burden on the NHS is expected to grow and grow.

Planning and public health has had a sometimes curious relationship.

The development of  planning system in the U.K. was inextricably linked with public health. Much of the inspiration for the development of town planning in the second half of the nineteenth century focussed on the need to improve health and living conditions in the rapidly expanding urban centres of the 'workshop of the world.' The promoter of the first Act of Parliament to include town planning (Housing and Town Planning Act 1909) stated that the purpose was to provide conditions where firstly the physical health of the population can be improved. 

A century on, planning for health remains a core objective for most current Local Plans. For example, the recently adopted Rushcliffe Core Strategy includes, as one of its key objectives: "Health and well-being: to create the conditions for a healthier population by addressing environmental factors underpinning health and wellbeing……

However, as a Planner, I am sure I am not alone in wondering what exactly can we do to properly improve the health of the nation. Sure, I can occasionally see a head line grabbing decision: like limiting the opening of one individual kebab shop near a school. But it hardly amounts to a coherent strategy.

The separation of the two professions of planning and health care has been immense. 

In my view most decisions of spatial significance in the health care arena have been taken by a nationally constructed body (the NHS), which focusses on curing ill health. The plaudits go to the inventors of a new response to a health problem. In comparison, little recognition or resources go into promoting better health in the NHS.

Planning has focussed on the controlling of development. Development Management as we now call it. There is limited vision in building new communities: as in the heady days of post the 2WW with over 20 new towns designated under the New Towns Act of 1946.

But the issue of the nexus of planning and health is at least rising up the agenda. The NHS is beginning to shift at least some focus onto promoting good health to prevent disease and ill health. At the same time some Planners, frustrated at being development controllers, are looking to be more innovative and forward thinking.

This separation of professions into different separate silos is symptomatic of most professions. To at least attempt to start addressing this problem for complex spatial challenges in the built environment various professionals have come together to hold a series of occasional free seminars in the early evening in Leicester. For the fourth in the series the Landscape Institute, the RTPI and RICS have combined to consider: "Planning to get better: Healthy Places and the NHS Liveability Agenda"

Please join us at a free seminar on 20th April at 5.30pm in a pub at the "Parcel Yard" next to Leicester railway station. For further details see the conference section of this web site.

Peter Wilkinson