A Design for Life

Adjusting the planning system to put good design at the heart of urban development could lead to a £15 billion boost to the UK economy and improve the wellbeing and mental health of millions of individuals across the UK.

A new report, ‘A Design for Life’, commissioned by British Land says that improving mental health and wellbeing in our cities could have significant and positive impacts in several ways, including boosting productivity in the workplace, reducing absenteeism and bringing down the NHS and welfare bills.

The Paper cites figures from the Centre for Urban Design & Mental Health which reveal the particular mental health challenge in our cities. That study found that urban dwellers have an almost 40% higher risk of depression, over 20% more anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia, in addition to more loneliness, isolation and stress. The new report identifies that well designed environments have a material positive impact on mental health: with two-thirds of the UK population now living in urban environments, good design has the potential to improve the wellbeing of around 44 million people.

The report says that incentivising local areas to put good design at the heart of their regeneration plans – such as the inclusion of outdoor gyms, urban parks, and building design - could dramatically improve peoples’ physical health, wellbeing and mental health. The chief executive of British Land has urged the government to grasp this huge opportunity and leave a “legacy beyond Brexit.”

The paper, co-authored by a former Treasury economist, finds that putting health and wellbeing at the heart of development would lead to a £15.3bn boost to the economy by 2050:

  • £3.6bn of savings from less reliance on the NHS and welfare bills
  • £5.4bn productivity increase due to less people taking time off work for stress related issues
  • £6.3bn boost in economic output from more people being in employment

The report sets out a distinct policy to help put health and wellbeing at the heart of urban development by enhancing the government’s existing Enterprise Zone policy. The private sector would be incentivised to put good design at the heart of their development plans. Under these ‘Urban Wellbeing Zones’, planning applications would be fast-tracked on the condition that proposed developments contribute to community resilience and wellbeing.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock said: “It’s vital that we place more emphasis on earlier health interventions and look at new and innovative ways of supporting people to lead healthier, happier lives.

“This research highlights the potential benefits of supporting people in ways that don’t involve a clinical setting, and shows that putting physical and mental wellbeing at the heart of development is a step in the right direction in improving the health of the nation.”

Labour’s Planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods, said: “I really welcome this important and timely report from British Land. In particular, I applaud the central tenet of the report that good design does not necessarily cost more than bad design, but it can lead to improvements in overall wellbeing and better mental health outcomes.

“It is also right that the report emphasises that small changes can make a difference as well as more wide ranging and complex renewal schemes.

“This report should be read by all planners and developers so that good design is the cornerstone of development, delivering high quality environments and savings to the Exchequer too.”

Nicky Gavron AM, Chair of the Greater London Authority Planning Committee, said: “The experience of space in cities has always been key to physical and mental health. I applaud these recommendations for putting design at the centre of plan-making – adopting them will contribute to our goal where the wellbeing of all Londoners comes first.

“As cities become denser, public space is at a premium. Urban streets, squares and parks are our outdoor living rooms. They need to be accessible to all. If they are cluttered, dirty and dangerous it impacts on us. But, well-designed, cared for shared space gives us a sense of belonging and pride in our neighbourhoods. These ‘Urban Wellbeing Zones’ will require communities to be engaged early in the planning process, bringing with them their needs and aspirations, and their knowledge of the distinct character and context of their surroundings.”

James Fletcher, Head of Corporate Partnerships at Mental Health UK said, “This report helpfully highlights the impact of poorly built environments on our mental health and wellbeing. We agree that there is both a moral and economic imperative to put good mental health at the centre of planning, and we hope that this report sparks a much needed debate.”

Chris Grigg, Chief Executive of British Land said: “Few are aware of the impact of the space around us on how we feel and function. And this power of urban design to increase – or decrease – our wellbeing has a direct link to the UK’s future economic productivity and social cohesion.

“With most of us now spending our lives in urban environments, there is a meaningful prize to be won from putting good design at the heart of urban development. This would help the Government in its mission to tackle mental illness, increase UK productivity and leave a positive legacy beyond Brexit.”

Source: British Land

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat. 

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