Towards Healthy Sustainable Neighbourhoods

20 January 2013 | blog, cities, education, healthcare, neighbourhood, place making, research, strategy, working with communities

Urban planning has long been associated with people’s health. The origins of British planning lie in the squalid and insanitary conditions that were rife in the rapidly expanding Victorian industrial cities. Mass access to clean water, sewerage, good housing and communal recreation space were huge advances in nineteenth century urban living, and were the basis of what became known as town planning after the First World War.

Since those early days, the association between health and planning has become less distinct but during the last decade there has been renewed interest in the connection between the places that we create and health and wellbeing. In recent years, planning and health professionals have become more aware of the contribution that planning and placemaking can make towards improving physical as well as mental health and wellbeing. Yet this is still a new field with research happening in the planning and health sectors. There is also much work to be done to help professionals to understand how to support health and wellbeing through their work.

This report on building Healthy Sustainable Neighbourhoods builds on the excellent work that has been carried out in Glasgow as part of the Equally Well project, a Scottish Government initiative that seeks to tackle health inequalities through a cross-sector approach that goes beyond health care and health policies. The Equally Well project has supported a number of ‘test sites’ across Scotland. Two sites are in Glasgow. One of them, situated in the city’s East End, has focused specifically on renewing the integration of urban planning and public health. It was led by town planners in Glasgow City Council’s Development and Regeneration Services department, with Etive Currie as project manager.

The Report is in six sections:

Section 1: introduction – what’s this all about?

Section 2: the wider context – a review of existing literature and tools in Scotland and the UK around principles of health and wellbeing in planning, as well as opportunities for overcoming current barriers in planning culture

Section 3: the Glasgow experience – an overview of existing strategies and plans in Glasgow, from citywide to neighbourhood level, focusing on their potential contribution to health and wellbeing

Section 4: planning for health and wellbeing – how planning practitioners can maximise their contribution to improving the health and wellbeing of Glasgow’s citizens

Section 5: applying the learning – a notional case study of how this learning could be applied, taking future area-based planning in North Glasgow as an example

Section 6: recommendations for embedding health and wellbeing in future planning practice


There has been plenty of theory, thinking and evidence, in Scotland, UK and globally. There is also good practice as some of the Glasgow experience described in the report demonstrates – but not enough. Planners are under a range of pressures and ensuring wellbeing and health is but one of many subject areas competing for time and resources. So the question is, what can planners do and what can they do differently in different aspects of their work such as:

  • in different roles such as development management, forward planning, community planning and regeneration
  • at different scale levels
  • working with different other stakeholders
  • picking up on changing practice in masterplanning and development

This study offers a practical approach to help better practice and connect to resources through literature review and practice review. However it is also based on a set of principles that guide the process and way in which the work is approached. These are that:

  • the process enshrines the basics of healthy cities as non-negotiable for all parties
  • the process is centered on place development – beyond physical development
  • the process recognises participation and empowerment as inherently positive
  • the process should embed sustainability
  • the process is socially innovative in unlocking people’s strengths and capabilities as foundations for new services and place-making opportunities
  • the process integrates health professionals and their expertise at the outset of new projects and on an ongoing basis
  • the process must integrate the work of multiple agencies

The diagram above brings together these principles into a series of building blocks that in turn relate to specific areas of the planning process.

1 People focus:

  • integrating the excellent work carried out by DRS in the East End and showing how that kind of bottom-up practice has multiple benefits
  • demonstrating how this work can be connected to open data so that communities can contribute to and receive relevant information
  • clarifying the planner’s role – this may not always be about the Council doing it themselves but about interfacing with it productively
  • clarifying health goals as distinct from other goals

2 Ensuring the basics:

  • ensuring that fundamental basic standards are built into future plans as a minimum standard including, green space, noise, air pollution, decent housing etc

3 + 4 Holistic place perspective:

  • linking to connected agendas, social innovation, placemaking and broader partnerships
  • showing how multiple initiatives can be supported from a health perspective

What this means in practical terms is that in order to ensure that the lessons and experience from Glasgow’s Equally Well East End test site are translated into better planning and placemaking for health and wellbeing across the city, the following plan-making actions should be adopted:

  1. Prepare a collaborative area plan (Local Development Strategy or Area Development Framework) for a part of the city using the collaborative ‘health and wellbeing’ approach outlined in section 5. This should be seen as the priority action as it offers an opportunity to further develop health and wellbeing in placemaking/planning through action
  2. Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of that plan and approach over the medium to long term, and share the experiences and learning.
  3. Ensure that both the HSN/HSMe models continue to be developed through the area plan.
  4. Disseminate learning from the Equally Well test site, the proposed area plan and continued use of the HSN/HSMe models amongst planning and health professionals (if possible, at the national level as well as within Glasgow).
  5. Provide joint skills training and learning opportunities for planning and health professionals – for example, collaborative working, facilitation, community engagement and translation of community aspirations into statutory policy.
  6. Ensure that future reviews of the ‘statutory development plan’ and Supplementary Guidance support improved health and wellbeing for Glasgow’s citizens.

Download the report:
Towards Healthy Sustainable Neighbourhoods-Model-Report-Cover
Images from the report: