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01.03.16

New ‘healthy towns’ can help radically reshape services – LGA

New ‘healthy towns’ being introduced in the UK to encourage children to exercise and support elderly people through their environment could help radically reshape health and care services, the Local Government Association (LGA) has stated..

The 10 towns, chosen from 114 applications for the government’s new Healthy Towns programme, have been launched by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens in a speech at the King’s Fund today.

They include Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire, which will build 3,350 new homes on a former army barracks, including ‘care-ready homes’ 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 in Devon, which has three times the national average of 0-4 year-olds, has been selected to look at how prevention and healthy lifestyles can be taught in schools from a young age as it builds 8,000 new homes.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA community and wellbeing spokesperson, said the environment can play a major role in improving people's health and wellbeing, and reducing the increase in major conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

“The Healthy New Towns programme give us the opportunity to radically reshape health and care services, testing what can be achieved with fewer constraints,” she said. “By keeping people well and providing services in better, more productive ways, healthy places to live can also contribute to the long term financial sustainability of the NHS.”

Simon Stevens said: “We'll kick ourselves if in 10 years’ time we look back having missed the opportunity to 'design out' the obesogenic environment, and 'design in' health and wellbeing.

“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.”

He added that the NHS wants to develop ways of providing new types of digitally-enabled local health services that share physical infrastructure and staff with schools and community groups.

The other 10 demonstrator sites are:

  • Darlington – 2,500 residential units across three linked sites in the Eastern Growth Zone
  • 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 13,000 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

In total, the new initiative will cover more than 76,000 homes and 170,000 people.

Options to be tested at some of these sites include fast food-free zones near schools, incorporating ‘adventure playgrounds’ into safe and green public spaces to encourage children to play, building dementia-friendly streets and ensuring people can access new GP services using digital technology to help older people stay in their homes.

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."

Public Health England figures found that in 2014-15, 19.1% of children in England in Year 6 were obese and 14.2% were overweight.

Among adults, 26% of men and 23.8% of women are obese, and obesity costs the NHS over £5bn a year.

The release of the government’s strategy on child obesity has repeatedly been pushed back, and it was announced last week that it won’t take place until the summer, angering health campaigners.

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of community organisations network Locality, said: “NHS England’s ‘healthy towns’ initiative is an exciting opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of thousands of people all over England but we need to ensure that strong, engaged communities are at their heart if they’re to do what it says on the tin.

“We know that obesity, sedentary lifestyles and isolation are growing and that the built environment can have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of communities; green spaces and infrastructure can encourage walking, cycling, interaction between people in the street and outdoor play for children.

“But these new towns need to be built on the strong foundations of community involvement if they truly are to be ‘healthy’. They need resilient community organisations at their hearts to support people to come together and shape the priorities for their local area and to create healthy, thriving communities.

“In planning and developing these communities, it is vital that we don’t just focus on the bricks and mortar, but also support the development of strong community infrastructure and make sure that local people are involved in decisions which affect their local area from day one.”

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