Healthy New Towns: a collaborative work in progress

09 December 2019 4 min. read

Healthy New Towns is a programme that emphasises the role of the social and physical factors in the health of its populations. Following a 10-site pilot, Mia Rafalowicz-Campbell from public sector consulting firm Campbell Tickell reflects on the learnings so far, with a focus on the role of councils and housing developers.

The Healthy New Towns programme, an NHS England initiative launched in 2015, is premised on the notion that our options for health lie far beyond the health system, and consequently good health outcomes can be designed into the built environment and our neighbourhoods.

The programme has explored how development and placemaking can be harnessed to create healthy communities with the participation of 10 demonstrator sites of various sizes across the country. Working with the NHS, Public Health England, the Town and Country Planning Association, The King’s Fund, PA Consulting and The Young Foundation, the sites have drawn out the key lessons for the Putting Health into Place publications.

Healthy New Towns: a collaborative work in progress

10 principles of healthy placemaking
These lessons take the form of 10 principles of healthy placemaking: 

Plan, assess and involve
1 Plan ahead collectively
2 Assess local health and care needs and assets
3 Connect, involve and empower people and communities 

Design, deliver and manage
4 Create compact neighbourhoods
5 Maximise active travel
6 Inspire and enable healthy eating
7 Foster health in homes and buildings
8 Enable healthy play and leisure 

Develop and provide health care services
9 Develop health services that help people stay well
10 Create integrated health and wellbeing centres 

‘Whole systems’ approach

In addition to the 10 principles, the executive summary points to the roles of various actors in the creation of a collaborative ‘whole systems’ approach to creating healthier places. Councils are the natural leaders of healthy places projects across planning, design and management. The report further recommends that councils:

  • involve councillors, who have unique insight into local health and care issues, in the championing of community co-creation;
  • translate evidence provided by NHS and public health colleagues into masterplans, local plans and policies;
  • prioritise ease and convenience for walking and cycling, then public transport, followed by car travel in the transport planning aspects (paying attention to provision for disabilities). 

Health and wellbeing

When it comes to housing developers and housing associations, the emphasis is on co-creation of places with communities that prioritises health and wellbeing. The report recommends developers:

  • engage communities from day one in how they want the place to support health and wellbeing;
  • engage early with NHS leadership to understand local provision and future needs;
  • benchmark plans against existing policy, evidence and standards; reduce health inequality;
  • require architects, planners, urban designers and other private practitioners to use the latest evidence and policy

In a climate of increased housebuilding and an ageing population, the programme capitalises on the opportunity for a multi-pronged approach to reducing health inequalities. Though it is still early days in terms of evaluating the programme, certain messages are clear: creating healthier places requires much closer working between local authorities, the NHS, developers and communities themselves.