L&Q Group Chief Executive, Fiona Fletcher-Smith

Blog: On health in planning and development

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Group Chief Executive
Published on 25/01/2024

Our Chief Executive, Fiona Fletcher-Smith, has contributed an essay to the New London Agenda, championed by the NLA.

The New London Agenda is a framework for best practice in city-making — taken from 18 years of experience in London, and with direct contributions from more than 400 people across public, private and charitable sectors.

Fiona’s contribution is on the focus of health in planning, as one of the main areas for action over the next four years and also one of the top priorities to consider ahead of the next election cycle:

When we think about us, as individuals, we’re fairly certain that our health is one of the (if not the) most important things. It has taken us a global pandemic to come to this truth, but we accept it now, and we’ve learned to look after ourselves and our health – be it physical or mental – better. It should then be a given that residents’ health and communities’ wellbeing should also be at the top of the priority list for developers and planners. But sadly, that is not yet the case.

At L&Q, we didn’t wait for the pandemic to start thinking about health as an essential component in planning new developments. As a housing association bound to its social mission, we are not only concerned with the number of new homes we aim to deliver (and making them as affordable as possible) but also the quality of life of our new residents and the success of the communities we build.

Two of our core values are PEOPLE and IMPACT, so we do our best to look after the wellbeing of customers, residents and employees, and we measure what we do by the difference we make.

In 2016, Barking Riverside, our flagship scheme with the Mayor of London, was selected to become the only ‘Healthy New Town’ in London and one of only ten such areas across the whole country. Each site was given funding to pilot and testbed interventions – be they physical, social or clinical – that could make people holistically healthier.

Through a series of partnerships with the local planning authorities, fellow developers, the NHS and, of course, residents, we sought to create facilities, events and open spaces, which prioritise and actively promote physical and mental health.

Accepting responsibility as developers and landlords is the first step in providing the homes and the spaces people need to create the best possible lives for themselves. Where they can exercise, get together, feel safe, and access community-led activities and initiatives. And also being within walking distance of suitably equipped and staffed health facilities.

The next step is having that conversation with the government to ensure that these ‘healthy new towns’ move from being a pilot into reality for the majority of Londoners - physically translating them into permanent places and spaces for health and wellbeing. This is why L&Q continues to work with our partners at Barking Riverside to find sustainable models for key health projects.

Now is the time to look at housing delivery and planning in general in a holistic, outcomes-based way, not simply focusing on the numbers, but on the real difference and impact having the right kind of home and community makes on people's lives, their health, ability to contribute to the economy and society in general.