Article written by Mark Ormerod
Earlier this month Leap brought together a range a partners who we believe are critical in shaping and nurturing the infrastructure and landscape which will transform across Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes over the coming decades. But why would an organisation focused on improving lives through physical activity and sport be interested in growth corridors, East-West Rail, Heathrow Expansion, HS2 and the 50,000 new homes planned by 2036?
Simply put this huge expansion means more people, more communities, more cars, more roads, leading to greater strains on public services including the health service. Add this to the changing demographic of the area, where Buckinghamshire will see the greatest increase in the numbers of 40–45 year olds, the ‘new town’ of Milton Keynes as one of the fastest growing Local Authorities in England, will see the 65+ population growing proportionally by 16% compared to the average population growth of 3.7%.
Ian Barham from Thames Valley LEP explained how the Oxford to Cambridge Growth Corridor sometime know as the ARC has the ambition for 1 million new dwellings . . . so with our partners we discussed how we should work with planners, developers and builders to ensure smart design incorporates plans to create communities, bring people together hopefully using physical activity as a catalyst. Our definition of physical activity includes walking, and older residents tell us how important walking is; not just for cardio-vascular benefits but for socialisation and meeting people to combat loneliness.
Tiffany Burch, who is Buckinghamshire’s Consultant in Public Health talked about the importance of ‘designing in’ community life into new and existing developments. Strong social networks help people live longer and have better mental and physical health. Social isolation and loneliness, often prevalent with older people are linked to a number physical and mental health problems, and people experiencing loneliness are more likely to visit their GP, attend A&E and be admitted to hospital as an emergency and three and a half times more likely to enter local authority funded residential care. Planners and developers should be considering safe and accessible multiuse indoor and outdoor spaces making it easier for people to meet informally and gather with friends and neighbours.
Philip Raiswell from Sport England’s planning team talked about ‘Active Design’ and the 10 principles that if applied, would encourage the built environment to offer individuals the greatest potential to lead active and healthy lifestyles. Aimed at Town Planners, Urban Designers, Health Professionals, Developers and House Builders Active design assists individuals to be active through everyday living and is applicable to both new developments and enhancing existing places. Philip gave examples including Brooklands, Milton Keynes where Active Design principles for multifunctional open space has been applied, connecting the new settlement to the existing community, school’s sports facilities connected by formal open spaces, a linear park and a new playground.
Megan Streb from sustrans gave further examples and shared that 80% of the public space in cities is the existing road network, and changing the way motorist, cyclists and pedestrians can cohabit urban spaces, through better awareness we can improve mobility. Megan talked about the ice cream test which present parents with the question how safe is it for their children to safely go and buy themselves an ice cream. How many junctions and road crossing does their child need to make safely? Could traffic flow be redesigned to help make areas safer through traffic calming and pedestrianisation. So many journeys are made to amenities within walking distance or cycling distance, roads would be safer and people healthier if people simply left their car at home saved for longer journeys.
This certainly chimed with the final speaker Julia Crear from Living Streets, who challenged the group with some alarming stats, for example, were you aware people now walk 30% less than they did 20 years ago. Julia posed tough questions about road and street design, are people the after-thought to cars? Are changes in demographics, particularly older people who use cars less being considered? Julia provided some great examples about co-designed projects with AGE:UK, and Cleanupuk . . and to be clear this is not about mobilising people to clean their streets; it’s all about socialisation, connecting communities, reducing loneliness and getting people more physically active – something dear to our hearts at Leap.