Highlighting the health and wellbeing impacts of urban development. Frome Gateway regeneration framework consultation launched
The Frome Gateway regeneration framework has reached a major milestone with six weeks of public consultation, including a major part of my input and research – using health evidence to inform the framework, and publishing the Health Impact Assessment.
I’ve been a Researcher-in-Residence with Bristol City Council and the TRUUD research project since October 2020. During this time I have worked with the Frome Gateway regeneration team. This has given me first hand insights into urban development decision-making which has been crucial to identify opportunities to influence healthier place-making.
The regeneration framework outlines the principles for future development in an area of St Jude’s, Bristol. This will see at least 1000 new homes and accommodation for 500 students being built in a deprived inner city area that currently has light industrial and warehouse buildings, as well as other businesses, various community uses and parks alongside a stretch of the River Frome. With around 32 landowners a framework approach is needed to achieve local and city wide objectives around housing, employment and sustainability.
Working with academic colleagues at the University of Bath and the Frome Gateway design team I have provided health, and health economic, evidence about how urban environmental change can impact on the health and well-being of local people. I also led on developing Health Impact Assessments to inform the framework, spanning accessible and affordable homes, social infrastructure, greenspaces, air quality and noise, active travel, crime and safety, healthy food, work and training, social cohesion and inclusive design, and climate change. This focus on health can be seen in the regeneration framework, which is peppered with messaging highlighting important health issues associated with the environment. The Health Impact Assessment of the regeneration framework has also been published. This highlights expectations for developers and other stakeholders.
Below are examples of health impact messages we included in the Frome Gateway regeneration framework:
- Prolonged experience of housing costs above 30% of income can have a negative impact on mental health, increasing risk of mental disorders.
- Improvements to the quality and quantity of green space could bring £30 million benefits from reduction in disease. Provision of additional green space through a single unit, rather than dispersed across the site, may bring further reductions of risk of diabetes, to a value of £21 million.
- High levels of traffic related noise can almost double risk of depression for adults and increase the risk of mental health problems for children.
- Overall we estimate that following the framework will result in £80-100 million of health economic benefit, compared to an unmanaged approach to development.
Developing the Frome Gateway regeneration framework has involved a lot of early engagement with the local community and other affected groups by the council. TRUUD researchers at UWE have explored the public’s experiences of some of these activities through focus group discussions. I’ve helped them to subsequently work with Bristol City Council to improve how information is shared for this consultation phase so that people can understand how they have already influenced the regeneration project, and how they can influence it now, and in the future. A series of short videos were made, with subtitles in multiple community languages, to directly address issues and concerns raised by the public in previous engagement activities. These were launched as part of the consultation and included a video of the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, encouraging the public to take part in the consultation.
We are currently evaluating our interventions, and plan to explore what impact the health evidence and HIA of the Frome Gateway framework has on planning applications, which we expect developers to submit after the framework has been adopted by Bristol City Council Cabinet in early 2024.
My embedded researcher role with Bristol City Council has enabled this collaboration between academics and practitioners to ensure our TRUUD interventions are timely, relevant and impactful. Every day conversations with practitioners meant our research outputs were able to be designed so that they fitted the timeframes of the council, making the most of new opportunities to work together when they arose. For example, I was able to conduct HIAs at different times in the project, with support from Public Health officers, to inform the framework as it was being developed, but it was only later in the process that we decided to publish a HIA document alongside the framework.
More applied research projects could benefit from this type of collaborative, embedded research approach, to firstly better understand complex systems, including stakeholder influence, and secondly to effectively co-design interventions that can tackle real-world problems.
Bristol City Council are gathering feedback on the framework during this public consultation period, and I am particularly interested in understanding differing perspectives of members of the public, and other stakeholders, on issues relating to health and wellbeing.
I’ll continue to work alongside my Bristol City Council colleagues as we finalise the framework and this will help us to evaluate our health interventions with the Frome Gateway regeneration project. I’m also supporting other Bristol City Council projects to have clearer focus on health. This will help us learn more about effective ways to influence creation of healthier places.