There are significant overlaps between a preventative approach to health that seeks to address the wider determinants of health and action to protect and enhance the environment.
By recognising these overlaps planners, working in partnership with environmental sustainability and health colleagues, can create win-win policies that maximise positive impacts on both health and the environment.
The Kent Environment Strategy highlights the environmental challenges that the county continues to face, such as:
- The need to improve air and water quality;
- The continuing decline in biodiversity; and
- The effects of climate change (such as water shortages, extreme weather events, flooding and heatwaves).
Addressing all of these environmental problems will also have significant positive health outcomes. These will include reduced respiratory problems linked to poor air quality; improved mental health and reduced obesity from increased access to biodiverse green spaces; and reduced risk of stress and illness due to flooding and associated water contamination.
Landscape character as perceived/experienced by people (e.g. topography; patterns of fields, roads and woodlands) is also important to wellbeing. Landscapes can provide a range of ‘cultural services’ that support wellbeing such as inspiration, spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic enjoyment (for further details see Natural England’s Experiencing landscapes: capturing the cultural services and experiential qualities of landscape). The planning system is critical to protecting landscape character and the many benefits it provides.
Six Ways to Wellbeing is a key approach public health are using in Kent for preventative health – it includes an emphasis on community ownership of people’s own health and links to the natural environment.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) good practice note Delivering Healthy Communities (2009) identified a significant overlap between planning policies that tackle climate change and those that can improve health; and the Marmot Review: Implications for Spatial Planning (2010) recommended the prioritisation of policies and interventions that both reduce health inequalities and mitigate climate change. Key planning policy areas identified by these documents include:
- promoting active travel, such as walking and cycling (increases physical activity and reduces carbon emissions)
- delivering energy efficient homes (reduces poor health from cold or hot homes, and reduces carbon emissions)
- delivering mixed use development and multi-use community buildings (increases physical activity, improves mental wellbeing and reduces carbon emissions)
- providing good quality parks and open spaces (increases physical activity, improves mental wellbeing and adapts urban areas to a changing climate)
- improving the quality of food in local areas (there is anecdotal evidence that local access to healthy foods improves diets).
The Joint Working section provides practical guidance on addressing all of these topics, including case studies demonstrating what has been achieved through collaborative working between planners and health and environmental sustainability professionals.
The Sustainability section provides further details on the links between health, sustainability and planning, including key stages in planning where environmental sustainability could input.”
Evidence for the links between changes to the environment and health is strong in many areas. See the Evidence of impact of environment on health for further details.