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New approaches to promoting health in local communities

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

The growth in health inequalities across London and the country has focused many of us on how to improve accessibility to health services and to other social and environmental assets in our communities that promote good health. Access to primary and acute care services, good air quality, green space, safe & active transport and healthy food must be available to all residents in all communities.

Fortunately, there is a renewed and growing awareness in the wake of Covid19 of the interaction between the built environment and public health which is being met with some new thinking. The LGA has launched a programme with the Health Foundation called Shaping Places for Healthier Lives and the TCPA has developed a range of resources to support the way that we plan, design, build and maintain our built and natural environments in order to support people’s physical health and mental wellbeing through its Healthy Places programme. Centric Lab through its Urban Health Council is also building evidence on the role of community assets in sustaining public health. In London, Impact Urban Health is investigating ways to improve health in inner-city areas by understanding and changing how inequalities impact our health.  

This week saw the launch of Business for Health, a business-led coalition of socially responsible employers, purchasers, investors and innovators supporting long-term sustainable innovation and investment in preventative health and care. It calls for businesses to lead the way in promoting and sustaining public health in the UK, through a framework of identifying and activating specific areas of influence that individual businesses can have on employee, community and wider public health.

We applaud the framework and believe it could provide an impetus for the property sector to lead the way for Business in Health by integrating health promotion into proposals for redevelopment and regeneration schemes. We also see an “oven-ready “mechanism to do this --- the Health Impact Assessment (HIA)- and invite the property development sector to take this on via a rethought, redesigned and reapplied HIA process.

It is astonishing that so many of the HIAs which inform decision making in planning don’t involve community voices, and nor do they address learnings from the Covid19 pandemic. It’s even more astonishing that they don’t recognise health inequalities, much less explore how their proposed scheme could redress them. More importantly, most HIAs take a risk mitigation approach which outlines pre-defined health metrics in a local community, and makes a case that the proposed development scheme won’t worsen them. Rarely do we see an approach that actually promotes good health, or sustains it.

The Business for Health campaign, supported by the LGA, TCPA, Centric Lab, Impact Urban Health initiatives, is an opportunity for property developers to pragmatically and impactfully influence the promotion of health in local communities.

Help is at hand with some newly developed tools for undertaking HIAs.

A New tool developed by Public Health Wales enables planners to integrate health into their development plans for the future.Designed to help further the collaboration between planning and public health sectors in Wales, it aims to maximise positive health and wellbeing outcomes through land use planning policies that create healthy, equitable and cohesive communities.

Startup company Placechangers has developed a tool to tackle the disconnect between built environment outcomes and public health” . Their approach integrates community engagement into the HIA process, which is key to understanding the

health concerns of local people directly from those potentially affected by a redevelopment project as well as understanding which built features locally are appreciated for health and which ones are detrimental.

Our message to property developers is to seize the opportunity to make redevelopment and regeneration health-promoting and health-sustaining activities. Who’s first?

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

20 October 2021


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