NHS wants to expand into town planning with healthy new town proposal

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The head of NHS England has called for the creation of ten new towns across the UK that will promote healthy living and provide innovative health and care services to citizens.

The initial 10 ‘healthy new towns’ could include 76,000 new homes with potential to eventually house approximately 170,000 residents.

The NHS wants to help shape the way these new sites develop, so as to test creative solutions for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, including obesity, dementia and community cohesion.

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NHS England is bringing together clinicians, designers and technology experts to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places, to showcase what’s possible by joining up design of the built environment with modern health and care services, and to deploy new models of technology-enabled primary care.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, is cheerleader for the scheme, which has also garnered support from Public Health England (PHE).

“The much-needed push to kick start affordable housing across England creates a golden opportunity for the NHS to help promote health and keep people independent. As these new neighbourhoods and towns are built, we’ll kick ourselves if in ten years time we look back having missed the opportunity to ‘design out’ the obesogenic environment, and ‘design in’ health and wellbeing,” says Mr Stevens.

“We want children to have places where they want to play with friends and can safely walk or cycle to school – rather than just exercising their fingers on video games. We want to see neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible. And we want new ways of providing new types of digitally-enabled local health services that share physical infrastructure and staff with schools and community groups.”

Expressions of interest in the Healthy New Towns programme were invited last summer, and attracted 114 applications from local authorities, housing associations, NHS organisations and housing developers.

NHS England whittled down the applications to a final ten, which are:

  • Whitehill and Bordon, Hampshire – 3,350 new homes on a former army barracks. A new care campus will co-locate ‘care-ready homes’ specially designed to be adaptable to the needs of people with long term conditions with a nurse-led treatment centre, pharmacy and integrated care hub.
  • Cranbrook, Devon – 8,000 new residential units. Data suggests that Cranbrook has three times the national average of 0-4 year olds and will look at how prevention and healthy lifestyles can be taught in schools from a young age.
  • Darlington – 2,500 residential units across three linked sites in the Eastern Growth Zone. Darlington is developing a ‘virtual care home’ offer where a group of homes with shared facilities are configured to link directly into a digital care hub, avoiding institutionalisation in nursing homes.
  • Barking Riverside – 10,800 residential units on London’s largest brownfield site.
  • Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire – 1,400 residential units.
  • Halton Lea, Runcorn – 800 residential units.
  • Bicester, Oxon – 393 houses in the Elmsbrook project, part of 1300 new homes planned.
  • Northstowe, Cambridgeshire – 10,000 homes on former military land.
  • Ebbsfleet Garden City, Kent – up to 15,000 new homes in the first garden city for 100 years.
  • Barton Park, Oxford – 885 residential units.

Options to be tested at some of these sites include fast food-free zones near schools, designing safe and appealing green spaces, building dementia-friendly streets and ensuring people can access new GP services using digital technology.

The developments will reflect the needs of their local populations when working up their plans. Design questions being asked include: Why are children happy to walk all day round a theme park but often get bored on every-day journeys?  Could adventure areas be designed into streets to encourage walking and play? And for the aging population, How far away are we from a town where more older people live independently and safely in their own home, backed by better technology and social support?

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “Some of the UK’s most pressing health challenges – such as obesity, mental health issues, physical inactivity and the needs of an ageing population – can all be influenced by the quality of our built and natural environment. The considerate design of spaces and places is critical to promote good health. This innovative programme will inform our thinking and planning of everyday environments to improve health for generations to come.

“PHE is proud to have played an active role in the development of the Healthy New Towns programme and we will continue to support the delivery of high quality, healthy environments.”

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