Institute claims new research shows a “clear link” between land use and health standards

New research demonstrates that green space in cities is vital to public health, the RIBA has claimed.

The Institute said today that new research it has had carried out shows a clear link between land use and health outcomes in English cities.

The new report City Health Check – How Design Can Save Lives and Money compares three major health issues: diabetes, obesity in children, and physical activity in the country’s nine most populated cities - Birmingham, Bristol,  Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The report found that the healthiest local authorities have almost half the housing density and a fifth more green space than the least healthy ones and that England’s obesity epidemic could be eased if better public spaces and green infrastructure were prioritised.

The local authorities with the least physically active adults (parts of Birmingham, London and Newcastle) have twice the housing density and 20% less green space than the best performing local authorities (parts of London, Sheffield, Manchester & Newcastle).  

RIBA President Stephen Hodder said:  “At a time of austerity and increased concern with physical and mental wellbeing, it’s shocking to discover that just by making public health a priority when planning cities, we can save the country upwards of £1bn annually though reduced obesity-related healthcare costs.

“With responsibility for public healthcare devolved now from central government to local authorities, it’s vital that planners and developers take the lead and ensure healthier cities.”

The research, carried out for RIBA by YouGov, asked residents how much exercise they took each week and what would increase the amount of brisk walking they do.

The most common changes that people said would encourage them to walk more often were: if pathways were designed to be safer (24%) and parks and green spaces were more attractive (23%).

An RIBA spokesperson said: “This shows that it is the quality, not quantity of streets and parks that will encourage people in English cities to walk more”.