Public Health and Planning


What is Public Health?

Suffolk's Public Health team is responsible for helping people stay healthy and protecting them from threats to their health. Improving the population's health is as much about improving the opportunities for good health as it is about providing health and care services. (About Public Health Suffolk)

Health and wellbeing refers to both physical and mental health in addition to social wellbeing. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. It is also determined by the strength of an individual’s relationships and the way in which they function within their community. The Department for the Environment has described wellbeing as:

Wellbeing is a broad concept with many varying definitions. Here, it is understood to be a positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity. It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, strong and inclusive communities, good health, financial and personal security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment. (Defra, Measuring progress Sustainable development indicators 2010)

Public mental health can also be improved, as illustrated in Better, together (Public Health Suffolk, 2021). The wider determinants of health (also called the social determinants of health) are illustrated below (for more information see State of Suffolk: How we sustain Suffolk):

wider determinants of health diagram

Source: Public Health England. Spatial planning for health: evidence review. 68 (2017)

Whilst health and wellbeing is influenced by a number of factors (genetics, behaviour, access to healthcare), planning professionals or those involved in built development have a vital role in creating and protecting the environment in which we are born, grow, live, work and age (UK Green Building Council, July 2016). 

Although local planning authorities are no longer explicitly required to work with public health leads (as set in the Department for Communities and Local Government, NPPF, paragraph 171, 2012), there continues to be a requirement to "aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places" (paragraph 92) and to "take into account and support the delivery of local strategies to improve health, social and cultural well-being for all sections of the community" (paragraph 93) (Department for Communities and Local Government, NPPF, 2012)

The purpose of this document is to aid planning professionals, both local authorities and developers in the delivery of healthy developments and communities by increasing local capacity, knowledge of health and wellbeing and the relationship to spatial planning issues, setting out the key principles and aspirations of Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) Public Health and Communities directorate, including to:

(a) feed into the plan making process through providing information and case studies for the evidence base to encourage a more health focused approach to the Sustainability Appraisal process, to feed into supplementary guidance for the different Suffolk LPAs, and

(b) to be used in conjunction with any other policy-directed guidance in assessing design quality and potential health impacts during the determination of planning permissions.


Why is Public Health important in Planning?

"Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places" (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, NPPF, paragraph 92, 2021).

Our physical and social experiences in early life can shape our health and disease risk as adults. This is also true for our experiences of the built environment in which we live, work and play. The life course approach stresses the importance of all ages and stages of life. In the context of planning and development, healthy places are those that enable and promote wellbeing across the life course – for children, young people, families, people of working age and older people – and plan to meet the very different needs these communities may have.

Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) combine procedures, methods and tools to systematically judge the potential, and sometimes unintended, effects of a policy, plan, programme or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. HIAs identify appropriate actions to manage those effects.

Issues in Public Health (including wider determinants)

The following are a snapshot created in 2022. For the latest figures, definitions, more detail and further information on these measures, see the State of Suffolk (including Suffolk 20+), part of the Suffolk Joint Strategic Needs Assessment:

  • In 20 years, 31% of Suffolk’s population will be aged 65 and over (projection, doesn't account for the impact of housing developments).
  • The proportion of the population living with more than one long-term health condition increases with age.
  • 40% of dementia is preventable. Contributing factors include obesity, social isolation, physical inactivity, and air pollution.
  • Suffolk workers earn on average £51 a week less than England as a whole.
  • 62,000 homes will need to be built in Suffolk within 20 years.
  • 10.7% of Suffolk households experience fuel poverty.
  • Pupils lost a third of education time during COVID-19. 
  • 82.1% of Suffolk households have access to a car or van, 97% have access to better broadband.
  • Males born in the least deprived areas of Suffolk are likely to live seven years longer than men from the most deprived areas. The gap is five years for females.
  • 23.4% of Suffolk carers have as much social contact as they’d like compared to 32.5% across England.
  • Common health issues in Suffolk:
    • Depression: 12.6% (82,608 people aged 18 & over)
    • Hypertension: 15.8% (127,647, all ages)
    • Diabetes: 7.1% (46,729, aged 17 and over)
    • Obesity 62.7% adults (18 and over) overweight or obese
    • Mental health - 7,836 people with diagnosed dementia