NHS outlines plans for healthy new towns

Simon Stevens, head of NHS England is setting out plans to build ten new housing developments with healthy living in mind.

The new scheme, unveiled in a speech to the Kings Fund, will cover more than 76,000 new homes with a potential capacity for approximately 170,000 residents, and will be supported by Public Health England (PHE).

NHS England is hoping that the new scheme will be able to test creative solutions for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, including obesity, dementia and community cohesion. Clinicians, designers and technology experts will collaborate to re-imagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places, to showcase what’s possible by joining up design of the built environment with modern health and care services, and to deploy new models of technology-enabled primary care.

Plans include homes with virtual access to GP services, safe green spaces to play and fast-food-free zones around schools. The places earmarked to test the ideas include existing villages in the South West, London and the North West and two new developments in Cambridgeshire and Darlington. Some of the developments are already being built, but others will not be completed until 2030.

Stevens is expected to base the plans on figures which show that Britain loses over 130 million working days to ill-health each year and that obesity among children and adults is on the rise, with physical inactivity being a direct factor in one in six deaths.

Stevens said: “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 well-being.

“We want children to have 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.”

Responding to the plans, Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community and Wellbeing spokesperson, said: "Good urban and housing design promotes healthy lifestyles and can help prevent illness. It can also keep older people independent and healthy, supported by the latest technology to live in their own homes rather than in care homes

"The healthy new towns programme give us the opportunity to radically reshape health and care services, testing what can be achieved with fewer constraints. 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."

The healthy new town sites are: Whitehill and Bordon, Hampshire - 3,350 homes on a former army barracks, including ‘care-ready homes’ adapted for people with long-term conditions; Darlington - 2,500 homes across three linked sites in the town's ‘eastern growth zone’, including a ‘virtual care home’; Cranbrook, Devon - 8,000 homes, with healthy lifestyles taught in schools from a young age; Ebbsfleet Garden City, Kent - up to 15,000 homes in the first garden city for 100 years; Barking Riverside - 10,800 homes on London's largest brownfield site; Bicester, Oxfordshire - 393 houses in the Elmsbrook project, part of 1,300 planned homes; Northstowe, Cambridgeshire - 10,000 homes on former military land; Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire - 1,400 homes; Barton Park, Oxford - 885 homes; and Halton Lea, Runcorn - 800 homes.