Hertfordshire County Council is taking steps to ensure future developments take account of residents’ health.

Currently planning authorities have no legal obligation to consider the impact a proposed development could have on the health of residents.

But officers at the county council are now looking at the role so-called ‘health impact assessments’ could play.

These are documents that can be submitted alongside an application, identifying positive opportunities for health as well as the negative impacts a development may have, that may need mitigation.

They were highlighted to members of the county council’s public health and prevention cabinet panel last Wednesday.

At the meeting, councillors were told that the county council is looking at ways to encourage these assessments to be supplied, in its role as planing authority for minerals and waste applications.

They heard officers were looking at ways to lobby for them to be included in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Meanwhile in its role as public health authority, the county council now also seeks ‘health impact assessments’ for major housing developments, which in Hertfordshire are determined by district and borough councils, and for national strategic infrastructure projects.

However, councillors were told, there is nothing yet to compel district and borough councils – who are planning authorities for most developments in the county – to ask for them or consider them.

At the meeting Conservative councillor Susie Gordon said the assessments were “brilliant” and suggested they would save money in the longer term if residents’ health was improved.

And Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Quinton said they clearly needed to have national legislation to back them up.

Following the meeting, the county council’s executive member for public health and prevention Cllr Tim Hutchings pointed to the housing expansion planned in the county in the coming years.

And he said there was a need to encourage district and borough council’s to include health impact assessments in their planning processes – to ensure health concerns were fully considered.

He said: “We want to encourage district and boroughs to reflect on health impact assessments in their local planning policies – because if it’s in their policies it has more impact.

“We think there’s obviously going to be an awful lot of development over the next years.

“And if that development is carried out in a way that takes into account the impact it has on health of the people, it will benefit local residents  – but it will also put less demand on health services.

“[…]This is trying to create an environment where people are thinking a lot more in depth about the impact of applications to come forward.”