NHS Chief announces plan to support ten healthy new towns

The head of NHS England will today announced plans to create ten NHS-supported ‘healthy new towns’ across the country, covering more than 76,000 new homes with potential capacity for approximately 170,000 residents.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive, will use a speech to the Kings Fund in London to name the sites that form NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme, supported by Public Health England (PHE).

The NHS will help shape the way these new sites develop, so as to test creative solutions for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, including obesity, dementia and community cohesion. NHS England is bringing together renowned clinicians, designers and technology experts to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places, to showcase what’s possible by joining up design of the built environment with modern health and care services, and to deploy new models of technology-enabled primary care.

Mr Stevens says: “The much-needed push to kick start affordable housing across England creates a golden opportunity for the NHS to help promote health and keep people independent. As these new neighbourhoods and towns are built, we’ll kick ourselves if in ten years time we look back having missed the opportunity to ‘design out’ the obesogenic environment, and ‘design in’ health and wellbeing.

“We want children to have places where they want to play with friends and can safely walk or cycle to school – rather than just exercising their fingers on video games. We want to see neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible. And we want new ways of providing new types of digitally-enabled local health services that share physical infrastructure and staff with schools and community groups.”

Expressions of interest in the Healthy New Towns programme were invited last summer, and attracted 114 applications from local authorities, housing associations, NHS organisations and housing developers, far exceeding expectations. After a rigorous selection process and presentations from the shortlisted projects, the first ten sites have now been chosen:

  • Whitehill and Bordon, Hampshire – 3,350 new homes on a former army barracks. A new care campus will co-locate ‘care-ready homes’ specially designed to be adaptable to the needs of people with long term conditions with a nurse-led treatment centre, pharmacy and integrated care hub.
  • Cranbrook, Devon – 8,000 new residential units. Data suggests that Cranbrook has three times the national average of 0-4 year olds and will look at how prevention and healthy lifestyles can be taught in schools from a young age.
  • Darlington – 2,500 residential units across three linked sites in the Eastern Growth Zone. Darlington is developing a ‘virtual care home’ offer where a group of homes with shared facilities are configured to link directly into a digital care hub, avoiding institutionalisation in nursing homes.
  • Barking Riverside – 10,800 residential units on London’s largest brownfield site.
  • Whyndyke Farm in Fylde, Lancashire – 1,400 residential units.
  • Halton Lea, Runcorn – 800 residential units.
  • Bicester, Oxon – 393 houses in the Elmsbrook project, part of 1300 new homes planned.
  • Northstowe, Cambridgeshire – 10,000 homes on former military land.
  • Ebbsfleet Garden City, Kent – up to 15,000 new homes in the first garden city for 100 years.
  • Barton Park, Oxford – 885 residential units.

Options to be tested at some of these sites include fast food-free zones near schools, designing safe and appealing green spaces, building dementia-friendly streets and ensuring people can access new GP services using digital technology. The developments will reflect the needs of their local populations when working up their plans. Design questions being asked include: Why are children happy to walk all day round a theme park but often get bored on every-day journeys?  Could adventure areas be designed into streets to encourage walking and play? And for the aging population, How far away are we from a town where more older people live independently and safely in their own home, backed by better technology and social support?

Mr Stevens will point to facts showing that:

  • Britain loses over 130 million working days to ill-health each year.
  • 19 per cent of children aged 10-11 were obese and a further 14 per cent were overweight in 2014/15.  The figures for 4-5 year olds were 9 per cent obese and 13 per cent overweight. In other words, the proportion of children who are obese doubles during primary school – from one in ten five year olds, to one in five eleven year olds.
  • Today only 21 per cent of children play outdoors, compared to 71 per cent of their parents when they were children, Design Council figures show.
  • A Design Council guide also estimates that a quarter of British adults now walk for less than nine minutes a day.
  • Physical inactivity is a direct factor in 1 in 6 deaths, and has an overall economic impact of £7.4 billion.
  • The Building Research Establishment has published a report on the cost of poor quality housing to the NHS. It estimates that the 3.5m homes in England that have serious hazards such as damp and pests has led to health problems that cost the NHS at least £1.4bn every year.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “Some of the UK’s most pressing health challenges – such as obesity, mental health issues, physical inactivity and the needs of an ageing population – can all be influenced by the quality of our built and natural environment. The considerate design of spaces and places is critical to promote good health. This innovative programme will inform our thinking and planning of everyday environments to improve health for generations to come.

“PHE is proud to have played an active role in the development of the Healthy New Towns programme and we will continue to support the delivery of high quality, healthy environments.”


  1. Chris says:

    Fantastic news, there is a need for investment back into the community.

  2. Emily Briggs says:

    I think this is a brilliant idea and I truly feel this would be a great environment for particularly people living with Dementia to maintain there independence for as long as possible in a safe environment. I think consideration should be made to attract local nurses and health care professionals to also live in this environment which will enhance the local services and increase community wellbeing. As a nurse myself this is a project I would definitely be interested in.

  3. Jean Evans says:

    Excellent idea. Why not roll out these principles to all Local Authority planning department to incorporate in all major planning applications for consideration.

  4. Karen Tompkins says:

    I live in Kingsbridge, a town in the South Hams area of Devon,that does not have a McDonalds but does have a fishnchip shop and an equivelant takeaway like KFC and a couple of asian food takeaways but is an AONB area with miles of walks from the town without requiring a car but also miles and miles of coastline to walk and fields and hills all around to walk in, but there are still many obese adults and children living in and around this area, so its not the environment that will make any difference to such obese individuals it is a change in mental attitude to health, ie you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You have to re-educate and reiterate the health issues of overeating or should I say underexercising at GP level for Adults and children and at Mother and Baby sessions, Pre-schools and Primary schools because it is simply that if you burn off more calories than you take in you will achieve weightloss and if you eat healthily too, ie dont eat MacDonalds every day( even if you run 10 miles every week as well) you will achieve better health (in most cases but obviously other factors step in). I believe GP’s have a great responsibility in being too nice and not honest enough with their obese or becoming close to obese patients – perhaps not to upset them, but if that was a parent, then you could consider the parent as being NEGLECTFUL if they have an obese child, no different to if you had a starved-looking child that was not thin through illness. So unless you can change the mental attitude to food and exercise (like Jamie Oliver and his mate Jimmy try and do)then in my opinion you can build as many towns as you like as is being suggested, but they will eventually fill up with obese people. The money would be better spent in every town, village, school, GP practice getting the message of exercise and diet. Maybe the people that pay for NHS services should be those who if given, say, a Year to get fit and active by their GP, dont change their ways, as they will ultimately be the ones who drain the NHS, like a punishment perhaps but if you think of a car, if its diesel you dont put petrol in it, and if you do then its going to stop running either effectively or completely and will cost you lots of money to put right. Bit like a car has an MOT once a year, perhaps humans should have the same and get given the first MOT free and then pay for future ones if you dont get the work (to be fitter and healthier weight and diet wise)done within that free year.

  5. StreetGym® says:

    We’ve just visited Cranbrook in Devon, one of the ‘Healthy New Towns’.

    At this stage there is limited evidence of what exactly will be done to make this a groundbreaking healthy place to live although we did see some walking/cycle paths and picnic areas in the country park. There are also a number of excellent play areas for children and it appears that a group of selfless volunteers are promoting a real community spirit.

    However, the housing is quite dense, very few trees or large green/open areas to support good mental health. Lots of cars parked on the street which could be a safety issue in due course. Evidence of takeaway/fast food outlets already moving into the town….

    We feel much more thought could have gone into creating exercise zones in the town through creative use of street furniture and architectural features. We’d certainly like to engage with you now or any other health professionals and urban planners who have an interest in this area.

    [link removed]

  6. Susan Cooper says:

    To keep older people active in communities like these, the sport of bowls is an excellent fit.
    Designing community buildings so as to offer enough space to roll out a mat (20ft/30ft or 45ft) is key .The same applies when designing care homes or residential homes.
    We offer “Just Bowl” a package available for partners to access and to roll out as a service
    Play Bowls
    Helping people to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

  7. L P says:

    Does anyone know who the author of this article is?

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I am a Bicester person so is my daughter who has mental health issues, we are trying to move back to Bicester to get support from my family for my daughters mental health, this would be an ideal place for her and myself to live the ECO village as the quiet location will help her with recovery and she would no longer live in isolation as we live in Buckinghamshire to far away from our family, This would also help me when I go to work knowing she has family to support her daily,

  9. Christine Strachan says:

    I am really interested in this project and particularly Ebbsfleet in Kent I think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea!! I would like to be selected for one of the one bedroom houses if there are going to be any? How do I go about getting registered? I currently live in South East London. You can contact me on the email address or by phone 07506701372 and by post 13 Derwent Road, Anerley, London, SE20 8SW.

  10. christine says:

    How do I get on list the as I would likevone of these homes?

  11. Mathilde says:

    This is an encouraging step towards reducing the obesogenic environment in the UK. The emergence of this plan in the news has been a great way to raise awareness regarding the importance of our everyday environment and the impact it has on our health. I am particularly impressed with the idea of fast food-free zones around schools. However:

    – Are the fast food free zones only around schools or also around family homes (residential areas) which would encourage adults and families to cook and/or rely less on fast food and takeaway shops?

    – Is anything being done to the houses themselves to make them more environmentally friendly and a healthier environment to live in?

    – Are there any plans to improve the built environment of already existing towns?

  12. Dr Patricia Elliott says:

    I had hoped to read about plans to try and make new towns and districts as healthy as possible for all those living there, not simply individual projects benefitting only one section of the public.

  13. JAMES EDWARDS says:

    In Darlington what areas are covered by the Eastern Growth Zone please?

  14. N Hole says:

    Sounds Good. I purpose Hertford . as one location. I would be willing to work for you. I would like more details . How can I get HERTFORD selected??

  15. Prof Derek Gould says:

    The emphasis on cycling to school is most welcome. However the health benefits of cycling apply equally to older age groups, while also reducing pollution, congestion, road risk and noise levels. Hence, comprehensive cycle networks should be incorporated into planning, employing EU best practice including segregation where appropriate.

  16. Dr Adrian Davis says:

    We need Healthy Towns across all of England. We have more and more obesogenic environments and the NHS should engage in this agenda not least to help control the rise in body mass that continues to feed into type II diabetes prevalence and NHS budgets and which has been growing faster than other lifestyle related poor health conditions. Healthy Towns is a critical public health issue and there is a good evidence base as to what should be done.

  17. Dan says:

    Is this part of the agenda 21? What a great idea! Get outdoors more safe gated communities. I hope the infustructure for youth development has been accounted for.

  18. William Hall says:

    Simon / Team

    I am a County Durham resident and work as an offshore manager on a 28/28 rotation with a physical education military background and wondered if there is anyway in which I could volunteer to support the group?

    Yours Sincerely

    Mr W. Hall

  19. Sophie says:

    This is an exciting development for these towns.

    Particularly looking forward to seeing the development of Ebbsfleet Garden City. As a local resident I’ve been concerned about the effect on the quality of life for new and existing local residents following the completion of these new homes. It is an area of poor air quality, high traffic congestion, ever increasing population and pressure on existing GP and secondary care and if Mr Stevens can draw attention to these issues and highlight the need for the area to be “healthy”, I support him.

  20. Dr Andrea Woodworth says:

    At last people are realising so much of what influences the Nation’s health starts way before the GP surgery or secondary services become involved!

    I hope the scheme will promote the Lifetime Homes concept. Homes that are adaptable to work for young families as well as those restricted by age or illness are vital.
    As a GP I have seen so many homes built with hazards and restrictions such as raised thresholds, poor lighting and inadequate bathrooms making the work of carers impossible and often delaying hospital discharges with ugly retrofit solutions that take weeks.

    People should be encouraged to look for well designed adaptable homes. Maybe we should have a rating like the Encap rating for car safety that would encourage the big building companies to engage with the issues to prevent more inadequate housing

    With regard to large communities such as what you suggest as a Care campus I am not so keen. Currently this housing seems to be built at a price premium which means that only the wealthiest can access it.

  21. Karen Johnson says:

    I have just looked at were the healthy towns help will be can’t belive Lincolnshire is left out! We have one of the largest areas with obesity and low incomes we really need help here please! Thank-you for reading this. Karen Johnson