Earlier this week NHS England announced plans for ten healthy new towns to be built across England. In addition to providing much needed new houses, these new towns will also be designed to include plenty of green spaces and dedicated cycle routes as well as junk food free zones around schools.
The plan seems to be that be that the NHS and local authorities will work with the private sector to create new communities where everyone can lead fit and happy lives. It all sounds like a perfectly sensible idea, although I can understand that many people may view it as a yet another example of the ever growing nanny state.
Of course, New Towns are nothing new. They were developed in the immediate aftermath of World War Two when a combination of Luftwaffe bombing and several decades of shameful under-investment meant that much of the housing stock in many UK cities was uninhabitable. People were moved from the cities to low density developments which had plenty of open spaces and often had separate zones for residential, retail and industrial use.
While this was unquestionably done with the best of intentions, the result was often that many residents, particularly those without access to a car, felt isolated and there was no real feeling of community.
A few years ago I worked at one of these New Towns, Stevenage in Hertfordshire. One of the biggest problems faced by the town was that it lacked a sense of identity. I tried to find ways of addressing this was by implementing a various civic pride campaigns.
For example, the One Book for Stevenage campaign aimed to get as many people as possible in the town reading the same book. Schools, faith groups and community organisations got involved in running a wide range of events and competitions themed around the book. Surely anything which makes people feel better about the place they live in has to be a good thing?
The latest plans for Healthy New Towns will only succeed if they result in building sustainable communities which residents can take a genuine pride in.