I think it’s fair to say that analysing a national planning framework is quite a daunting prospect for many of us working in the health and social care sector. Planning policy contains a lot of jargon and it’s hard to work out where our expertise fits into it all. However, voluntary health organisations have a significant contribution to make in this discussion. We are well versed in considering issues like tackling the root causes of health inequalities and enabling people to live healthy lives, of which planning is central.
Voluntary Health Scotland was therefore grateful to be approached as part of the Health, Social Care & Sport Committee’s scrutiny of the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). We will be holding an engagement session with the Scottish Parliament on NPF4 on Monday 7 February. Ahead of then, I thought it would be helpful to briefly explain how our sector could contribute to this conversation.
What is planning, and why is it important to health? The purpose of planning is to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest. The Scottish Government’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) sets out how their approach to planning and development will help to achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045. Legislation requires that the NPF4 has six outcomes, one of which is improving the health and wellbeing of our people. The question is, how can we move towards net zero in a way which also tackles longstanding challenges and inequalities, and that ensures everyone can live in places that help them to be active and enjoy lifelong health?
Committee Scrutiny of NPF4
Helpfully, the Health, Social Care & Sport Committee recently held an evidence session on NPF4. MSPs heard from key public health experts on the implications of the framework for health and wellbeing. The key take-home message was NPF4 could go further in terms of considering health and clarity was needed on how certain policies could be implemented.
We’ve prepared a brief summary of this session: Health Social Care & Sport Committee evidence session on NPF4. It contains some key documents and clips from the session which are well worth looking at, as the experts provided much more clarity on planning and public health than we ever could.
Brief Overview: The committee considered the health and wellbeing implications of the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). Much of NPF4 was welcomed by the witnesses, however there were some significant gaps highlighted during the session. The Place and Wellbeing Outcomes developed by the Improvement Service were consistently referenced throughout, with witnesses calling for this to be incorporated into NPF4 in some capacity. Importantly, Matt Lowther questioned whether NPF4 would enable a local planner to refuse a development on the basis of health. He also highlighted the benefits a “Health Inequalities Impact Assessment” could have in creating truly inclusive communities, noting this goes further than the proposed “health impact assessment” in NPF4. Much of the discussion was focused on whether health was given enough consideration, especially in comparison to tackling climate change. It was felt that both should be given equal weight, not pursued at the expense of each other. The witnesses also discussed the implementation of NPF4, health harming products, mental health, 20-minute neighbourhoods, inequalities and economic considerations.
What is the draft National Planning Framework 4?
There are a number of resources available online for the National Planning Framework, including a detailed explainer video. NPF4 is the draft long-term plan for what Scotland could be in 2045 that will guide spatial development, set out national planning policies, designate national developments and highlight regional spatial priorities.
SPICe created a hub of material which explains NPF4 in much simpler language. The focus of NPF4 is predominately achieving a net-zero, sustainable Scotland. Health and wellbeing is peppered throughout NPF4 but is most prominent in the specific policy on creating “Liveable Places where people can live better, healthier lives”. There are some significant questions about the strength of the proposals within “Liveable Places”, especially on whether they allow for planning decisions to be made “on the basis of health.”
If you are looking to focus your time on one particular aspect of the 131-page document, it should be Part 3 – the National Planning Policy Handbook. It sets out policies for the development and use of land which are to be applied in the preparation of local development plans; local place plans; masterplans and briefs; and for determining the range of planning consents. This part contains the policies on Liveable Places. The policies on Sustainable Places, Productive Places and Distinctive Places will of course also impact on health and wellbeing, but its not their prime focus.
Its quite easy to get bogged down in the details of the eight Liveable Places policies, so we’ve outlined the key elements of each policy. Policy 14 is the one with the most explicit focus on health:
- Policy 7- Local living: Local development plans should support the principle of 20-minute neighbourhoods.
- Policy 8 – An infrastructure first approach: This policy basically outlines how infrastructure should be considered in development proposals.
- Policy 9 – Quality Homes: Is all about supporting the delivery of high quality, sustainable homes that meet the needs of people throughout their lives. Importantly it states that “an equalities led approach to addressing identified gaps in provision should be taken…”
- Policy 10 – Sustainable Transport: Aims to reduce the need to travel unsustainably, decarbonise our transport system and promote active travel choices. This policy contains multiple proposals on travel including that “proposals for new and upgraded transport infrastructure must consider the needs of users of all ages and abilities, including in line with relevant equalities legislation.”
- Policy 11 – Heat & Cooling: Focuses on designing places to help us achieve zero emissions from heating and cooling our buildings and adapting to changing temperatures.
- Policy 12 – Blue and green infrastructure, play and sport: Aims to make places greener, healthier and more resilient to climate change by supporting green spaces and providing good quality local opportunities for play.
- Policy 13 – Sustainable flood risk and water management: Focuses on flood risk resilience.
- Policy 14 – Lifelong health, wellbeing and safety: This is the policy focused most explicitly on improving people’s health and wellbeing:
- It says local development plans should “seek to tackle health inequalities” – but it doesn’t outline how.
- Importantly, it states a “health impact assessment” should be required for all proposed developments that are “likely to generate significant health effects” or within the categories of “national developments” or “major developments”. Its worth noting local developments under 50 homes wouldn’t fall into these categories. Additionally, there’s an opportunity for this policy to go further by requiring a “health inequalities impact assessment” as opposed to the proposed “health impact assessment”.
- It includes proposals on noise pollution and air quality. Along with encouraging proposals for space or facilities for local community food growing and allotments.
You don’t need a degree in planning to contribute to conversations on how we embed health and wellbeing into our communities, although it would be helpful. Viewing planning through a public health lens could have a significant impact on health in our communities. Whether its access to services, improved air quality, access to green space, better transport, accessible housing, healthier food… the list is endless, and it needs our input.
For further information please contact Kimberley Somerside, Policy & Engagement Officer.