The appearance of public health experts in town halls across the country over the past 12 months has shaken up councils’ work in other areas, according to Steve Kent, director of localities at Cheshire West and Chester Council and president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport.
“Because of the proximity and the closer relationship between senior officers in heath and in place services there’s a much greater understanding between the two, and that’s starting to develop into tangible actions,” he says.
One such action is an increased ability for councils to influence the “night-time economy”, he adds.
“You might know instinctively that there are certain local areas in which increasing the number of licensed premises or extending hours would have an adverse effect in terms of the number of people ending up in A&E on a Friday and Saturday night,” he says.
“But that instinct isn’t enough to influence the planning and licensing process. A lot of authorities are seeking to measure the adverse outcomes and build up an evidence base.”
In practice, Mr Kent says, this involves A&E units collecting evidence on where patients have been drinking, then sharing this with the local authority’s public health team.
“If councils can make a case of cause and effect, then they have a stronger case for refusing or moderating licence applications.”
Councils have also had a rethink on sustainable transport since the arrival of health experts, he says.
“I think it’s reasonable to say that in previous years a lot of local sustainable transport schemes were about improving cycling facilities for existing cyclists, with the hope that this would lead to an increase in the number of cyclists.
“Instead of that, we would now work with public health colleagues to look at the outcomes we want to achieve by promoting cycling and which groups of the population we should be targeting, then deciding how we can best do that.”
This could mean setting up cycling facilities in different areas, alongside other programmes to promote healthy lifestyles, he says.
“I think we’re still only just starting to explore the opportunities that public health presents for our work,” he adds.
“In future we will be able to identify exactly what it is in terms of public transport, roads and pavements, street lighting and transport facilities that will have the most beneficial impact on health outcomes.”
Steve Kent, director of localities, Cheshire West and Chester Council