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How can we deliver places we can be proud of for our future generations?

Irene Beautyman on why embedding outcomes into our new national planning framework could help us slash Scotland’s shocking health inequalities

When asked to explain why we need to work more collaboratively to shape the places where we live, work and relax, this is my go-to quote:

“Obesity, inactivity, depression and loss of community has not ‘happened’ to us; rather we legislated, subsidised and planned for it.”
Dannenberg et al, 2012, Making Healthy Places

The Shaping Places for Wellbeing Programme, a partnership between the Improvement Service and Public Health Scotland (PHS), stems from the issue that this quote highlights (click here for information on the programme).

The places outside our doorstep where we live, work and relax can either contribute to these problems or positively enable us to experience greater wellbeing and thrive. It’s so important therefore that as we shape those places we do so with full awareness of their potential impact. That we think carefully when we’re making a change about the unintended consequences of our policies, plans and actions.

Impacts on environment, health and finance

We know that how each individual’s life pans out from birth is heavily influenced by parental nature and nurture. But when we think back to where we grew up – be it playing as a child, hanging out as a gawky teenager or ultimately moving out into the world on our own – the places we moved through in those years feature as heavily as our parental figures. Just as with parenting, for good or Ill, these places also impacted on the daily and cumulative choices we made. They shaped who we are today.

We can now see that the contribution of place in tackling Scotland’s biggest challenges around inequality is centre stage. Its impact on habitual choices from the moment we step out of our front door accumulate to either increase or reduce carbon emissions, expand or restrict our sense of isolation, increase or decrease our monthly finances and enable or restrict how long we live our lives in good health.

In response to these challenges, our policy and legislation is changing.  Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework confirms this. A recognition of the importance of place runs through the document. I can begin to dream of a system that enables far more weight to be given to implementing policies on access to active travel, green space, walkable neighbourhoods, community amenities, play and public transport.

Targeting wellbeing and inequality

But the devil is in the detail. For those who will be expected to deliver on the document’s ambitions there are crucial concerns about the lack of detail and clarity on the characteristics of what makes a successful place. For many years now the Spatial Planning, Health and Wellbeing Collaborative have been developing a set of Place and Wellbeing Outcomes to provide that clarity. These outcomes are the evidenced characteristics that every place needs in order for those living, working and relaxing there to thrive. Based on views from the World Health Organisation and our UK public health counterparts, they set out a comprehensive and consistent set of characteristics. They provide the clarity Scotland needs for all sectors to take action to ensure our places contribute to the health of our people and planet. The objective of Shaping Places for Wellbeing Programme is to deliver these outcomes and, in doing so, to improve Scotland’s wellbeing and reduce inequality.

Wanted: a whole system approach

While I welcome the six qualities of a successful place and the detail on 20-minute neighbourhoods within the National Planning Framework, they do not give sufficient clarity for the public, third and private sector to move at pace with our post-Covid recovery. We need more. We need to embed the Place and Wellbeing Outcomes into our new national planning framework.

Doing so gives us all the opportunity to shape the ambitions of this national document into action. Action that gives us all more confidence and consistency in creating every place with the health of people and planet as the priority. More focus on the long-term preventative contribution of our places within a whole system approach to slashing Scotland’s sadly shocking health inequalities. Creating a system that allows all sectors the confidence to be part of the solution. And delivering places we can be proud of for our future generations.

Irene Beautyman is Place & Wellbeing Partnership Lead at the Improvement Service and Public Health Scotland

About the author

Irene Beautyman is Place & Wellbeing Partnership Lead at the Improvement Service and Public Health Scotland

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