Health Impact Assessments for a few Dozen Dwellings – a total waste of time that should be squashed by MHCLG

One of the more heartening developments in Planning in recent years has been an increased awareness of health issues in the design and planning of urban areas.  This is nothing new of course planning in England was founded on public health concerns and it has always been a principal concern of urban design.

The World Health Organisation has been instrumental in promoting Health Impact Assessment of policy.  Policy that may be beneficial in one sphere may harm public health, so this is very sensible.  This has affected policy development in a number of countries and Public Health England has published a guide to HIA referring to ‘larger’ development’.

This is where the British Planning disease of proceduralism and lack of proportionality takes over.  Directors of Public Health in many local authorities have been nagging chief planners and heads of policies to include policies on HIA, or to do an HIA on a local plan, and many have just rolled over.

The impact on planning has been entirely negative, rather than mainstreaming health in key planning decisions it has made it a tick box exercise which in the vast majority of cases just adds to cost and does nothing to improve public health.

I have no problem of a systematic HIA of a development plan as long as it is wrapped up in a wider Integrated Impact Assessment to remove duplication with SEA etc.

I also have no problem with HIA of the very largest planning applications, especially when health issues have not fully been addressed in the local plan.

However development plans have had policies on compulsory HIA at application stage creep in.  For example in London for major development (defined in the London Plan as 30+ dwellings).  In Central Lincolnshire its 25+ dwellings, many more examples.

I’ve seen many of these HIAs, but all of them are simply tick box affairs involving the HUDU checklist, and showing very very tiny impacts on existing health services because of their scale.  This is tokenistic.  On very large strategic sites it is necessary to mainstream this work as schemes may well include health facilities or place large populations at risk (i.e. air pollution) but as such it should be part and parcel of the masterplanning process and not treated as a separate bureaucratic masterplanning exercise.   As a procedural exercise they are ususally completed by the planning consultants and not the designers anyway – so whats the point?

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