Ten ‘healthy’ new towns to be built across England with NHS backing

Woman and baby green space

Public Health England (PHE) has announced that it is supporting the creation of ten new ‘healthy’ towns across England, including the development of 76,000 new homes with a potential to house up to 170,000 people.

NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme will see the NHS playing a key role in the planning and development of these new towns, using them as a test bed for possible long-term solutions to some of the biggest public health challenges currently faced, including childhood obesity, dementia and the provision of health care in the community.

According to PHE, 19% of children aged 10-11 are obese, a further 14% are overweight and around 25% of adults walk for less than nine minutes each day, leading to concerns about a ‘ticking time bomb’ of future health problems. Physical inactivity has been found to be a contributory factor in 1 in 6 deaths, with an overall economic impact of £7.4 billion.

“Golden opportunity”

Chief Executive at NHS England Simon Stevens says: “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.

Cycling Open Space

“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.”

NHS England says it is consulting with clinicians, designers and technology experts in order to “reimagine” how the built environment could potentially contribute to better health, as well as how technology might play a part in improving primary care provision, however, funding to build the developments is expected to come from private backers and local councils.

The future?

Under the proposed plans, residents could have virtual access to GP services via digital technology, safe walking routes to schools and the creation of appealing, interactive green spaces, encouraging a more active lifestyle, and a ban on fast food outlets around schools. Attention will also be paid to the provision of healthy workplaces and leisure facilities to encourage positive approaches to physical activity, a healthy diet and mental health and wellbeing.

Green Park Leisure

Other options likely to be trialled include ‘dementia-friendly’ infrastructure, such as anti-trip pavements and easy to interpret signage, designed to enable independent living for as long as possible. It is hoped that the developments, if successful, could provide a blueprint for future town planners to follow across the country.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, says: “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.”

New Housing Development

A total of 114 applications were received from local authorities, NHS organisations, housing associations and housing developers and of these, the following ten sites have now been confirmed. Work on some has already begun, and they are all scheduled for completion by 2030.

  • 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.

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