First witnesses highlight importance of access to outdoor space and need for joined-up planning policies

A parliamentary committee has commenced its inquiry into the impact of the built environment on children and young people’s health and well-being across England.

Around 100 written submissions were made to the the Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities Committee inquiry prior to its 2 January deadline.

Those that responded to the committee’s call for written evidence comprised a wide range of built environment experts, developers, and organisations, including Fiona MacDonald, Matthew Springett, Create Streets, Grosvenor, ZCD Architects and the Thornton Education Trust.



Witnesses to the inquiry delivering evidence on Wednesday. Left to right: Alice Ferguson, Associate and Board Director, Playing Out; Harriet Grant, Freelance reporter specialising in human rights, immigration and migrant issues, Guardian; Helen Griffiths, Chief Executive, Fields in Trust; Mrs Gemma Hyde, Projects and Policy Manager, TCPA.

The committee began hearing evidence on Wednesday morning. Chair, Clive Betts MP stated that “Our job through this inquiry is to find out what the problems are and try and come to some solutions that we can present to ministers”.

In a pointed comment around what he suggested was a lack of clear lines of responsibility around this area within government, Betts also observed that this was dependent upon “actually finding a minister that is responsible for this area.”

Dr William Bird, chief executive of Intelligent Health, commenced oral evidence by saying “Environment, and particularly green space, has a major effect on the development of children’s brains and their health.”

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at Exeter Medical School, claimed that her research demonstrated that “the more time children spend playing outside adventurously, where they get the opportunity to explore risks, the better their mental health is in terms of anxiety and depression.”

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Highlighting the decline in children being given the opportunity to explore their environments and play freely outside of the home, Alice Ferguson, a director of grassroots organisation Playing Out, attributed a wide range of benefits to young people being given access to their wider environment, including “physical activity, socialisation, friendship, mental health and feeling a sense of belonging to where [they] live”.

Gemma Hyde, projects and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association argued that improving young people’s access to green spaces and the built environment meant “ensuring there is a clear vision within planning policy that places need to be connected”.

Highlighting the role of local planning authorities, she said that planners needed to look beyond the “red line boundary” of individual developments, to consider how they “sit within the wider context”.

A recording of the committee session is available online