Property developers who want planning permission for major building projects should face a new “health test” imposed by local councils to see if their plans will promote healthier living in the area, a researcher has proposed.
Major developments that can show they will deliver a “net health gain” by supporting better air quality and healthy lifestyles could be granted accelerated planning permission, according to Dr Caglar Koksal of the University of Manchester.
Dr Koksal makes the proposal in a briefing for the Social Market Foundation, where he will speak at an event later this week that the think-tank is hosting with Policy@Manchester. (See notes for event details.)

The SMF, a cross-party think-tank, said that including health in planning policy could help deliver some of the key goals of the Levelling Up agenda.
The Manchester/SMF briefing argues that better housing and other development should be given higher priority when considering health policy.

Good developments can improve wellbeing and encourage healthier lifestyles. Badly-designed building can encourage over-crowding and reliance on cars for transport instead of walking or cycling. Overcrowding has been linked to the spread of diseases including COVID-19, while places with high rates of car use can have poor air quality and higher rates of obesity.
Local councils should set higher health-related standards before giving permission for big developments, Dr Koksal said. But those developments that actively incorporate design features that support healthier lives should be rewarded with fast-track permission.

Dr Caglar Koksal said:

“When the demand for housing remains exceptionally high, developers have very little incentive to promote health with their schemes. The primary concern of most house builders is to deliver profits for their investors. However, local authorities can motivate and inspire developers to work together and create healthier places.”
“For example, local authorities can ask all major developments to demonstrate a health net gain with their development, provided that local evidence substantiates such a requirement.”
“If a development demonstrates health net gain, for example, the local authority can grant an accelerated planning permission, which would lead to huge cost savings and contribute positively to the viability of the proposal.”

The proposed “health net gain” could vary by areas and include any acute local health issues such as respiratory diseases or obesity.
Dr Koksal added that local authorities can set “robust design standards,” supported by the National Planning Policy Framework, to positively influence design quality.

These could include a well-connected network of attractive, safe, convenient transport corridors with separated pedestrian and cycle routes, high-quality open and recreational green spaces, and decent homes built to the highest standards.
Dr Koksal added:
“Delivering healthy homes and high-quality neighbourhoods requires a strong steer from local leaders, who are responsible for establishing a unifying vision for their area and helping planning departments and public health teams inside local authorities work together to implement the shared vision.”
“At a minimum, local authorities’ corporate strategies should outline how they address local health and wellbeing needs with the help of their housing strategies.”

James Kirkup, Director of the SMF said that Dr Koksal’s research and ideas could be used to deliver on a key Levelling Up promise of “longer, healthier lives.”

Ministers have promised that average Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) will rise by five years by 2035, with an interim target to narrow the gap between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030.

James Kirkup, SMF director, said:
“Giving Britons longer, healthier lives will require making the places we live healthier. The relationship between building, local environment and health is hugely important, and understanding it better is vital to delivering better, healthier lives.”
“This research should be studied closely by policymakers at national and local level for evidence and insight into how to deliver healthier places and better development.”

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