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Developers, health and place – connecting the dots

At a time when evidence is fast increasing on how the built environment impacts our individual and collective health, it is regrettable that the government is neither acknowledging or responding to this. “Government fails to connect dots between health and place” wrote Simon Aldous in the most recent edition of The Developer.

Christine Murray, the Developer’s editor-in-chief, commented

“Gov't threw out, then defeated a revised Healthy Homes amendment by 1 vote. Why? It said health was safeguarded by existing policy. But research says not. Now the Levelling Up and Regen bill contains no mention of health and no measures to tackle health inequalities.”

Indeed, the Healthy Homes amendment’s defeat in Parliament came just days after the publication of new research that shows England’s housing, transport and built environment policy does not support health despite the impact of place on health outcomes.

A report recently published by TRUUD (Tackling the Root causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development) revealed that health outcomes are largely missing when it comes to shaping our urban places. Its authors cautioned

“To prevent our towns and cities from making us ill through pollution, poor quality housing or lack of green space we need to place health on an equal footing with other cross-sectoral policy agendas, such as growing the economy. Cross-Whitehall strategies to reduce health inequalities have had success previously in the UK and action is becoming more critical against the backdrop of a struggling healthcare system and cost of living crisis.”

In the meantime, Professor Kathy Pain of the Henley Business School has been researching how to help mobilise government institutions “to engage with opportunities for real estate investment to finance a sustainable health and wellbeing future for city populations. In a recent blog to mark World Cities Day, sheoutlined what she learned in talking with leaders on the real estate industry about what needs to change for their role to be fully realised in creating healthier places.

“Contradicting a common perception of investment in urban land and property as solely motivated by profit-making, our research findings reveal that investors in real estate want to act on healthier, socially sustainable cities” write Professor Pain.

She continues:

“Evidence from our interviews and meetings with senior professionals in leading international investment banks, funds, trusts and consultancies, makes clear that improving the social wellbeing dimension of urban sustainability has become a real estate commercial priority. Real estate investment is ready to be harnessed to bring about change.”

My own experience reflects this view. This time last year I convened a group of leaders from organisations in the Built Environment, following a plea to the sector for collective action around health and health equity.

There was overall support and enthusiasm amongst the group to work collectively to better understand and address the health needs of local communities where development and regeneration of the built environment is happening, and this has slowly grown over the last year.

The government’s inability to seize the opportunity to improve health and health equity through the built environment, demonstrated over these last few weeks, has left many dots unconnected – so now’s the time for the private sector to help connect those dots.

As a welcome step forward, Legal & General has formed a partnership with the Quality of Life Foundation and the Marmot Institute for Health Equity to explore how developers can do this.

I’ll be working with this partnership as it aims to support and inspire the development sector to commit to greater health equity through homes and places across the UK.

The partnership will develop a programme of action to galvanise investors, housebuilders and developers, with two objectives:

● To develop practical approaches to create homes and places that improve health equity.

● To build a platform for leadership on homes, place and health.

In its initial phase the partnership will:

● Consolidate and communicate the evidence base on the impact of homes and places on health equity.

● Interview key stakeholders to understand barriers and opportunities to promoting health equity in the development process.

● Convene a roundtable of individuals and organisations to strengthen health equity in the sector.

The partnership will publish key findings, recommendations and a programme of action in early 2024.

If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

7 November 2023


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