The towns are likely to feature easy access to public transport and safer cycling and pedestrian networks. Fast food-free zones near schools could soon be a reality in 10 NHS England-backed “healthy” new towns designed to encourage people to exercise more, eat better and live independently into old age.
The NHS hopes that by helping to shape the way the towns are built it can begin to address major healthcare problems including obesity and dementia and establish a blueprint that will be followed elsewhere.
The 10 towns selected, stretching from Darlington to Devon, will comprise more than 76,000 homes and 170,000 residents. They will be announced formally by the NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, at the King’s Fund in London on Tuesday.
He said: “The much-needed push to kickstart 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 10 years’ time we look back having missed the opportunity to ‘design out’ the obesogenic environment [which encourage people to eat unhealthily and not take enough exercise], 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. 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.”
Renowned clinicians, designers and technology experts will work together to help deliver environments that promote healthy lifestyles.
Locations of ‘healthy new towns’
They are likely to include easier access to public transport and safer cycling and pedestrian networks. For instance, there could be so-called dementia-friendly streets, with wider pavements, fewer trip hazards and LCD moving signs, which research suggests people with the disease find easier to navigate.
There will also be an emphasis on workplaces, schools and leisure facilities that encourage physical activity, healthy eating and positive mental health and wellbeing. Previous attempts to introduce fast food-free zones have been hampered by the legal difficulties of shutting down existing businesses – but this would not be an issue in new towns.
In Darlington, technology will be used to develop a “virtual care home” whereby a group of homes with shared facilities will link directly into a digital care hub to avoid institutionalisation in nursing homes.
Professor Kevin Fenton, the 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.”
Physical inactivity is a direct factor in one in six deaths, and has an overall economic impact of £7.4bn. A Design Council guide estimates that a quarter of British adults walk for less than nine minutes a day.
The 10 sites, which are at different stages of development, are Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire; Cranbrook in Devon; Darlington in County Durham; Barking Riverside in London; Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire; Halton Lea in Runcorn, Cheshire; Bicester in Oxfordshire; Northstowe in Cambridgeshire; Ebbsfleet Garden City in Kent; and Barton Park in Oxford.
They were chosen from 114 applicants from local authorities, housing associations, NHS organisations and housing developers.