Policy Option 13 - Healthy Place Shaping and Health Impact Assessments

  1. The Oxfordshire Plan is committed to reducing health inequalities, increasing life expectancy and improving the quality of life for all who live, work and visit Oxfordshire. As a result, it is proposed that the Oxfordshire Plan should require all proposals for major development and urban extensions to contribute towards the creation of healthy communities, by adhering to healthy place-shaping principles for delivery of high-quality, sustainable places.

  1. The inclusion of such a policy would help to promote a clear and consistent approach to healthy place-shaping across the county and ensure that the City and district local plans contain relevant and effective measures to create healthy places, as well as places that are accessible to all.

  1. Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are a way in which we can ensure that health and wellbeing are carefully considered in planning policy and proposals throughout Oxfordshire. HIAs can be undertaken at any stage in the development process but are best done at the earliest stage possible. HIAs can be undertaken as stand-alone assessments or as part of a wider Sustainability Appraisal or Environmental Impact Assessment. The process looks at the positive and negative impacts of a development as well as assessing the indirect implications for the wider community. The aim is to identify the main impacts and prompt discussion about the best ways of dealing with them to maximise the benefits and avoid any potential adverse impacts.

  1. The Oxfordshire Plan is itself supported by a Health Impact Assessment and the potential health impacts of the Plan's policies and strategy will be assessed through the plan-making process.

  1. A Health Impact Assessment can take a number of forms, which range from full assessments which involve a comprehensive analysis of all potential health and wellbeing impacts, to rapid and desktop assessments, which are a quicker and simpler method of assessment.

  1. The main objective of an HIA is to inform and influence decision-making, with the main output being developments that minimise risks and maximise the benefits for the health and wellbeing of communities.

  1. The introduction of Health Impact Assessments for new development in Oxfordshire, would ensure that greater emphasis is placed on the need to create healthy places by developers and decision makers.

Policy Options

  1. It is proposed that the Oxfordshire Plan sets out a number of healthy place-shaping principles which will guide and inform how major developments are planned in Oxfordshire. These principals are varied, and include considerations of, for example, the impacts of air quality on human health, social isolation and loneliness and physical activity.

  1. As cross-cutting principles, many of these are woven through other proposed themes and policies of the Oxfordshire Plan, so an alternative option is to not include a standalone policy for healthy place-shaping in the Plan. However, this approach would risk diluting the emphasis and importance placed on healthy place-shaping in Oxfordshire and could result in an inconsistent approach to healthy place-shaping across the county.

  1. Setting countywide healthy place-shaping principles would not prevent local principles also being established as the local ones would reflect the characteristics of the local population. The county-wide principles would seek to identify the issues that any local principles should address.

  1. The preferred policy option is to include a Health Impact Assessment policy within the Oxfordshire Plan, requiring major developments to be supported by an HIA. 

  1. The inclusion of an HIA policy for the whole of Oxfordshire would allow for clear guidance to be provided for when and where the preparation of a HIA would be appropriate. An alternative policy option would be to leave HIA policies to individual local plans. However, this alternative option would risk an inconsistent approach to HIAs in local plans, or even a lack of a HIA policy, and therefore it is not preferred.

Preferred Policy Option

Policy 13: Healthy Place-Shaping and Health Impact Assessments

We propose that the Oxfordshire Plan should include healthy place-shaping as a standalone policy, to establish a framework that can apply across Oxfordshire for the design and master planning of major developments (as defined in the NPPF).

Example of the principles that a policy might usefully include are set out below:

Explicitly address the existing and projected health and wellbeing needs of an area and consider how existing community assets could be enhanced to help promote healthy life expectancy.

Help to reduce obesity and levels of physical inactivity through the provision of good-quality playing pitches, parks and open space, sports and active leisure facilities, and outdoor gyms that are accessible to all.

Provide opportunities for people to become more active through the design of street layout and public realm to encourage walking and cycling as priority modes of transport; create and enhance cycling and walking networks as well as ensure connectivity between new development, local services and facilities, access to parks and open spaces and public transport.

Reduce social isolation and loneliness through providing good-quality social community infrastructure which encourages opportunities for social interaction and helps to support the growth of friendly communities. Also, to create community development strategies which contain actions to encourage community cohesion, both within the development itself and between the new development and existing communities.

Secures access for those with disabilities. Make it easier for people to make healthier food choices by providing allotments and other opportunities for food growing such as community gardens, school allotments, community orchards, roof gardens, edible landscaping around new schools and housing developments involving fruit and nut trees and planting.

Aim to improve air quality and reduce noise through locating and designing pollution generating land uses and roads to avoid adverse impacts on sensitive land uses. Provide diversity in the residential offer that improves accessibility, affordability and promotes inter-generational connectivity and lifetime neighbourhoods.

Design good quality buildings which are energy efficient and mitigate against the impacts of climate change. Create safe environments, addressing the fear and perception of crime, including improving safety for all road users. 

It is also proposed that the Oxfordshire Plan includes a policy requiring the rapid Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for major developments in Oxfordshire, but the length and detail of the assessment should be proportionate to the scale and complexity of the proposed development.

A methodology and assessment checklist for carrying out rapid HIA of major development proposals (10 or more houses) has been prepared for Oxfordshire and has been published as the Oxfordshire Health Impact Assessment Toolkit. 

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