RTPI: Health reforms offer planning opportunities

Relocating health services to town centres could 'act as a springboard' for wider economic regeneration of local areas, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

In its written submission to MPs scrutinising the impact on councils of the government’s health reforms, the RTPI said that encouraging health services to relocate to town and district centres could "act as a springboard for wider economic regeneration of an area", breathing new life into town centres and improving footfall for local businesses.

It said that the potential for public-service driven town-centre regeneration had been neglected by retail guru Mary Portas’ high street review, although authorities would need to boost flexibility over operating hours to properly reap rewards.

Elsewhere, the RTPI suggested that although planning departments – among others - had power to shape the wider determinants of health, they needed training on how to build up an effective dialogue with council health and wellbeing boards set up to steer local policy.

The boards are being set up under provisions in the Health and Social Care Bill to improve public health, which are due to come into effect in April.

Speaking to MPs on the communities and local government select committee at an evidence session last week, RTPI head of policy and practice Richard Blyth said he was "hopeful" that health and wellbeing boards would be able to consolidate issues such as social care, transport and housing to avoid them being dealt with as "different subjects in isolation".

However he questioned how areas would deal with "larger than local" issues like population overspill.

He asked: "If you have an area where chronic overcrowding is a problem and you haven't got land available to sort that out, how do you influence the health and wellbeing board strategies of the neighbouring authority?"

Blyth said there was a feeling among RTPI members that mechanisms for dealing with cross-boundary health and wellbeing issues would be needed.

The RTPI's written submission can be read here.

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