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At a crossroads: Building foundations for healthy communities

A new research report on the role of housing and councils supporting healthy place-making

A new report published by APSE, researched and written by the TCPA, is calling on the Government to put public health at the heart of housing delivery; empowering local decision-makers to create healthy and high-quality places. The report condemns a decade of deregulatory planning reform which has failed to acknowledge the crucial role local authorities play in designing healthy places and driving up the standard of new housing.

Launching the report APSE Chief Executive Paul O’Brien said “We did not need a health pandemic to remind us of the need for healthy place-making. Decades of evidence highlights that poor-quality housing and places create a multitude of health issues from obesity and diabetes to stress and anxiety. COVID-19 has also exposed the sad fact that poorer places are more prone to communicable diseases. This cannot be right in modern Britain and is in direct conflict with the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda to address the problems endemic in our ‘left behind’ places. 

The report, released just days after further deregulatory planning reforms were announced calls for the UK Government to: -  

  • Give local authorities a central role in developing the forthcoming reforms to the planning system, and build consensus on an approach to delivery. For too long central government has imposed unwanted planning reforms on local authorities with little consideration of how they will actually deliver them.
  • Provide more support and grant funding to local planning authorities (LPAs) wishing to directly deliver social housing, which is both a sensible investment and can play a crucial role in creating healthy communities.
  • Resource LPAs effectively. This is a blunt and obvious recommendation, but it underpins effective delivery in both the public and private sectors, and there is a clear business case to be made for strengthening preventative public health as a way of reducing health care expenditure.

Speaking about the research lead author Dr Daniel Slade addedWe know what healthy places look like, so why are we not building them? In England especially, the answer lies in central government’s refusal to give local authorities the resources and policy powers the sector knows they need. With a new round of radical deregulatory planning reform ahead of us, and a decade of failed deregulatory planning reform behind us, we are clearly at an inflection point. Rather than continuing down the same self-defeating path, it is time to look at the evidence. England stands to learn a lot from the approach of the other UK nations.”

As well as setting out a series of recommendations to strengthen healthy place-making, the research draws upon longitudinal data from the last five years of research published by APSE and produced by the TCPA, alongside a new survey of 216 councillors and planners from different local authorities across the UK, five new case studies, and interviews with 11 experts and practitioners in healthy place-making, to identify barriers to healthy place-making. It make recommendations to local and central government on five themes:

  • Theme 1: Central government in England must acknowledge the vital role of the public sector in delivering healthy places, and empower them accordingly.
  • Theme 2: Devolving more decision-making power from central government to the strategic level will improve coordination and communication between public health and planning.
  • Theme 3: The Planning Inspectorate in England and Wales need to find local plans, which don’t sufficiently address health and wellbeing, to be unsound.
  • Theme 4: The need for a more ambitious approach to regulating quality in the built environment.
  • Theme 5: What local authorities can do to plan for healthy places in trying times.

The report also finds that a stark contrast has emerged between England, Scotland and Wales. Whereas English authorities find significant barriers to creating healthy places, in Scotland and Wales, where different regulatory measures are in place, better approaches are supported. 


Download Full Report (pdf)

Download Report without Annexes (pdf)

Download Annexes (pdf)


Notes to editors

APSE is the Association for Public Service Excellence; a not-for-profit body working with over 300 UK wide local councils

TCPA is the Town and Country Planning Association, a planning charity which remains the world’s longest surviving charity promoting the values of progressive planning and place-making.     

To arrange for interview please contact Mo Baines on mbaines@apse.org.uk or Matt Ellis on mellis@apse.org.uk  



Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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