Friday, May 23, 2014
Planning and Health
Planning and Health The seminar held on 20 May by the TCPA was billed as an opportunity to learn about the working of the Inspectorate. Sponsorship by the the Inst of Public Health meant a significant attendance from EHOs and others interested in the contribution that the environment makes to health and wellbeing. Hugh Ellis who was convening the conference described hoe planning and the garden city movement developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries out of concerns for the impact that urban (and some rural)environments were having on peoples' health, yet those responsible seem to have moved off in separate or at least unconnected directions. The seminar explored ways in which local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate could be persuaded to start to take an interest in the causes of obesity, ill health etc (eg fast food outlets near schools, and access to greenspace). There is no fixed limit on the uses of and development of land that have material impacts on the greater public good, but many matter affecting individual health are down to individual choices. It is the job of public health professionals to show where there are impacts on the general public. My suggestion for a route into planning decision-making is the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The input from the planners suggested that insofar as the presumption is being applied to energy efficiency of buildings and location of uses and buildings it is being applied as in support of development with little or no weight to sustainability. It might be that this (and future governments)might be persuaded to give more weight to 'sustainability' if this were to incorporate the evidence from health and wellbeing professionals able to correlate uncaring and unhealthy environments to premature death rates and costs to the NHS. When planning got started the public health conditions could not be overlooked. Now the environment might look unthreatening but in terms of noise, air quality and certain land uses the use of large data sets could now provide reliable data to decision-makers. It should not be too difficult to explain why long and healthy lives should be regarded as fundamental to sustainable development, at least as much as the affordability of housing and access to jobs. I look forward to see planning cases being considered on the basis of the way health and wellbeing is covered by the social, environmental and economic impacts of developments seeking planning permission. In conversation with an officer from the London Borough responsible for health and well-being I persuaded myself, yet again, that the case for cohousing is compelling. Of course, there are existing neighbourhoods functioning in a way that nurture the health and well-being. However, as long as the planning system is involved in the process of providing new housing and also development within existing built-up areas, the objective of facilitating neighbourliness (I wonder if this is a better term than community?) should be a priority. As many years have already been spent on analysing what comprises both communities and good neighbourhoods it might be that engagement with and encouragement to the cohousing movement should be mainstreamed. And getting back to the subject of this blog, this would be a positive step towards increasing health and well-being through the operation of the planning system.