Government agency calls for further work to integrate health into local plans

A report by government agency Public Health England (PHE) has found that more needs to be done to better integrate health outcomes into local plans and to improve engagement between councils' planning and public health teams.

Image by Tejvan Pettinger, Flickr
Image by Tejvan Pettinger, Flickr

In 2017, PHE, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, published an evidence resource document on planning and designing healthier places to help practitoners better understand the link between spatial planning issues and health impacts.

Its report this week includes the result of a survey it carried out on the document's impact, to explore how local authority teams have been able to use it and the challenges of applying its principles into practice at a local level.

It found that existing evidence on health is sometimes not translatable into spatial planning policies, while a lack of resources and capacity within local authorities was also a barrier.

The report said: "The interviews and national survey…demonstrated that although significant progress was being made in many areas, there remains a clear set of challenges and opportunities to be addressed by practitioners in order to take the necessary actions in practice - even with the tools and evidence available to them."

The review of the impact of the Spatial Planning and Health: evidence resource found that more public health professionals (72 per cent) were aware of it than those with a town planning and built environment role (56 per cent).

The resource consists of diagrams aimed at identifying how planning policy can help achieve better health outcomes in five areas – neighbourhood design, housing, transport, natural environment and food.

Of those who had made use of it, 72 per cent said that they had found it useful.

However, respondents identified differences between public health and town planning professionals in the interpretation of the evidence.

PHE concluded that clear communication and engagement processes between public health and planning teams within councils can help "ensure public health teams have a clearer understanding of how and when to engage with their planning colleagues to have maximum influence and input on health and wellbeing issues".

PHE also called for integration of "local health and wellbeing needs and priorities into the local plan and decision-making process".

The report said: "Planning teams have a responsibility to formalise the statutory joint strategic needs assessment of health and the joint health and wellbeing strategy in local plans and planning decision processes as required by the [National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)].

The study "identified the importance of integrating health into the local plan as a main facilitator of healthy planning".

A further recommendation is for a central repository for sharing good practice and evidence.

It said: "There is a significant wealth and breadth of information available to practitioners on healthy planning developed by a range of international and national organisations to support implementation of legislative and policy requirements.

"Practitioners appreciate clearer signposting and access to this information to support local actions, and there are suggestions that national organisations or institutions with greater capacity, such as universities, can take on this role."

In a forward to the report, Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said: "The likely benefit of improving communication across sectors and professions, establishing meaningful collaboration through sharing of knowledge and experience, and making use of existing resources and guidance are some of the key findings from the study.

"The outcomes of this study call for built environment partners to work more closely with local public health teams to deliver healthy places and environments for the whole population."

The Spatial Planning and Health - Getting Research into Practice (GRIP): study report was produced by PHE and the University of the West of England.

The NPPF requires planners to promote healthy communities, use evidence to assess health and wellbeing needs and work with public health leads and organisations.

The government’s recently-published National Design Guide recommends that planners work with a wider range of stakeholders, including health and emergency services, on the design process.


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