Patrick Vernon writes:
I am supporting the campaign to stop Barnet Council approving the planning application with Barratts to build 2000 units at Welsh Harp. Although we recognise that as a result of successive government policy in preventing the expansion of Council led social housing this has now increased pressure for deals with developers in the private sector and Registered Social Landlords to meet regional and local targets for affordable home particularly for families.
However the submission made by Brent Council, local councillors, residents associations, conservation and environmental campaigners have put forward clear and strong grounds on the environmental and ecological consequences why this proposed development should not go ahead.
I also suggested at the public meeting on Saturday 4th of May there is another angle which the campaign can also peruse to potentially either delay or force the Council to reconsider the planning application by assessing the public health dimension of the development.
Under the Local Government Act 2000 local authorities have a power to promote wellbeing for the economic, social and environmental aspects of their local community. This is reflected in authorities in making an explicit statement on wellbeing, training councillors and officers to understand the wellbeing agenda with a clear community engagement plan.
The recent controversial Health and Social Care Act 2012 gives local authorities the responsibility for the public health function from the NHS, along with developing health strategies for the wellbeing of the local population and leadership of the Health and Well Being Board. Finally, The Localism Act 2011 gives a clear mandate for council to devolve power, support the development of Neighbourhood Forums/Parish Councils and be more transparent with the public regarding expenditure and decision making processes. These statutory powers give a clear obligation for all councils particularly Barnet to have plans and strategies to promote and enhance the wellbeing of the local community.
The only way that Barnet Council and especially their Planning Committee can make a proper assessment of the wellbeing of people in Barnet and Brent is to undertake what is known as a Health Impact Assessment (HIA).
HIA is used a lot in the UK and internationally on policy decisions and infrastructure projects in a variety of areas such as education, employment, transport, green space, housing, and finance and welfare impact on health. The HIA can identify potential or actual health impacts of polices and thus using the results this can to minimise any negative and maximise positive impacts or even defer a project.
Under the leadership of the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone used HIA to inform all major policies and regeneration projects in London such as the Olympics and the introduction of the Congestion Charge. When I worked for the NHS in Brent I lead two HIAs on Wembley Stadium redevelopment and Central Middlesex Hospital.
The key essence of a HIA is to promote the maximum health of the population. I believe that using the following principles and values we can determine the potential impact of the Welsh Harp development:
Democracy, emphasising the right of people to participate in a transparent process for the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies that affect their life, both directly and through the elected political decision makers;
Equity, emphasising that HIA is not only interested in the aggregate impact of the assessed policy on the health of a population but also on the distribution of the impact within the population, in terms of gender, age, ethnic background and socio-economic status;
sustainable development, emphasizing that both short term and long term as well as more and less direct impacts are taken into consideration; and
Ethical use of evidence, emphasising that the use of quantitative and qualitative evidence that has to be rigorous, and based on different scientific data.
Over the last decade the health inequality gap is getting wider in North London. For instance if you drive along the A5 from Kilburn to Colindale life expectancy increases by about approximately 10 years. However West Hendon according to the recent Barnet Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (2011-2015) is an area of multiple deprivations with one of the lower rates of life expectancy for men and women in Barnet. That is why an HIA will be important for the Welsh Harp development.
It is difficult to speculate at this stage what would be the likely health impact but similar studies and research indicate the potential following impact that could apply to Welsh Harp:
- Increased sense of isolation and impact on mental wellbeing;
- Lack of sense of community and social capital;
- More road traffic accidents especially involving children;
- Limited support and intergenerational dialogue with young and older people;
- Greater pollution during the construction phase;
- Increased emission and noise levels;
- Increased health inequalities particularly respiratory diseases such as asthma and hay fever;
- Increased fuel poverty and limited financial inclusion;
- Increase wealth and income inequality with the creation of gated communities for more affluent residents;
- Community safety issues around perceived increased fear of crime and criminal damage during the construction phase.
I also urge Boris Johnson as Mayor who now has clear strategic powers and responsibilities for public health in London to be committed to ensure that his future plans for any major policy change or regeneration project use HIA. I hope he will put pressure on Barnet Council or use powers to ensure that he health and ecological impacts are carefully considered.
We must put people before profits if we want a safe, healthy and sustainable community in both Brent and Barnet. Let’s work together and Save Our Welsh Harp for future generations of local people in North London.