The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (which has the rather wonderful acronym ‘NICE’) is known to most of us as the body that approves new drugs for the NHS. But NICE does a lot more than test out new pharmaceuticals. The body also sets quality standards for the NHS, public health and social care. For the first time, these standards have expanded to include town planning.
A new draft quality standard for encouraging physical activity within the general population proposes that:
Local authorities and healthcare commissioners have physical activity champions to oversee the development and implementation of local strategies, policies and plans
Local authorities develop and maintain connected travel routes that prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and people who use public transport
Local authorities involve community and voluntary groups in designing and managing public open spaces
Workplaces have a physical activity programme to encourage employees to move more and be more physically active
Schools and early-years settings monitor and update travel plans annually to increase active travel.
The first three of these proposals directly affects planning policy, particularly transport planning and the design of new settlements and residential schemes. Through these proposals, this new quality standard aims to encourage planners to prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport when designing spaces to incentivise people to leave their cars behind and get around under their own steam.
In short, they believe it would be NICE if places were designed with the aim of getting us all up and about.
It’ll be interesting to see if the proposals are adopted by local planning authorities, particularly given the current shortage of resources in council planning departments – often cited as one of the reasons that local plans take so long to put together. Appointing physical activity champions and setting up connected travel routes will cost money, which is in scarce supply in local government at the moment.
It’s also questionable how practical these proposals will be outside of urban conurbations. Promoting cycling and walking is possible, practical and desirable in cities and towns, but much harder in areas where the nearest supermarket is a twenty-minute drive away.
The final standard is expected to be published in June, and at that point, we’ll all find out if being NICE is as powerful as people say.
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