Intended to promote healthy living and reduce the incidence of diseases like obesity, ‘healthy towns’ were hailed as the future when the NHS announced the initiative 18 months ago.

Red Hall, Darlington

A week after planning permission was secured for the latest scheme, Property Week caught up with Keepmoat Homes’ land and partnerships director Ian Prescott and NHS England’s strategy programme manager Daniel McDonnell to find out more about the initiative and how healthy the relationship is between the private and public entities joining forces to deliver healthy towns.

Ten sites have been identified across the country, totalling 76,000 homes. Last week, planning permission was granted on an 81-home scheme in Darlington, County Durham, which will feature wide stairways to allow for stairlifts, easy-access wetrooms with plywood panels so that grab handles can be fitted and footpaths designed to help residents walk to the bus stop safely.

10 healthy towns
Whitehill and Bordon, Hants 3,350 new homes on former Ministry of Defence land
Cranbrook, Devon  8,000 new residential units
Darlington, County Durham 2,500 resi units across three linked sites in the Eastern Growth Zone
Barking Riverside, London 10,800 residential units on London’s largest brownfield site
Whyndyke Garden Village, Fylde, Lancashire 1,400 residential units
Halton Lea, Runcorn  800 residential units
Bicester, Oxfordshire 6,000 homes in north-west Bicester, 13,000 for Bicester in total
Northstowe, Cambridgeshire 10,000 homes on former Ministry of Defence land
Ebbsfleet Garden City, Kent Up to 15,000 new homes in the first garden city for 100 years
Barton, Oxford  885 residential units

Inwardly focused

Prescott believes that by bringing the property and health sectors together, better results can be achieved more quickly.

“For us, it’s not about one fancy, clever, one-off design; it’s about bringing health into our standard housing thought processes,” he says.

It’s about bringing health into our standard housing thought process - Ian Prescott, Keepmoat

However, he adds, the value of NHS input has been tempered by delays and difficulties arising from the way the organisation works - Prescott says it is “too inwardly focused” and that “when you sit in meetings you hear acronym after acronym”.

Constant shifts in personnel can also prove problematic. “People seem to move around the NHS from one role to another quite frequently and when you’re trying to pin things down and get agreement, that’s not entirely helpful.”

McDonnell agrees that getting all parties on the same page can be challenging, but says the initiative is delivering results.

“The absolute key has been partnership working across sectors, identifying and developing shared goals for a development, achieving buy-in from all partners and working to deliver it,” he says. “This is harder than it sounds but the sites that have achieved this are the ones delivering at pace.”

One way to avoid getting bogged down is for all parties to meet early on and agree a shared set of goals, he argues. “We want partners to have a shared vision that provides clarity and consistency throughout the planning and development process,” he says. “So if childhood obesity is an issue locally, designing a place where children can walk safely to school and play along the way would have a huge impact.”

Sharing lessons

McDonnell adds that rather than select any further locations, the NHS will instead focus on sharing the lessons learned throughout the sector via “guidance and tools for developers, planners, health providers and commissioners to deliver healthier places”.

The NHS is also keen to influence policy, he says. “We will produce policy recommendations for government and have already fed into revisions to the National Planning Practice Guidance and the housing white paper.”

So if all goes according to plan, this current initiative will just be the start - the industry can expect to hear plenty more about the role of health in housing development in the months and years to come.