Insights article

Making community consultation part of health impact assessments

Sebastian Weise
Published: 31/07/2020

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Health impact assessments provide an opportunity to reflect on the various impacts a project has on the long-term wellbeing of residents impacted by that development. Health Impact assessments pick up on issues important to local residents and are most powerful if integrated with community consultation. 

Rather than seeing the requirement of a health impact assessment as an additional box-ticking exercise, leading developers emphasise the health and wellbeing part of their placemaking agenda from the start. This fits in with the increasing adoption of health impacts as validation requirement in planning applications.  

Developers such as Redrow, Countryside, or Igloo have well-established placemaking frameworks, which also capture wider factors of their developments beyond the specs of residential units.

Benefits of tying community consultation to health impacts

With health impact metrics underly the construction project from the start, community consultation can be tied back to productive talking points, such as walkability, access, services, and build environment features, which are crucial to healthy, happy residents.

Project owners picking up on resident concerns can generate better suited local developments. For architects, direct community consultation on health impacts puts real-life stories to the problems identified through the brief.

Community engagement can indentify if features relevant to the health outcomes are usable; and identify options to improve them. This is not only useful for considering what is provided on site, but can also be addressed through contributions, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy or negotiated developer contributions. 

Public engagement adds the following to construction projects that focus on health and wellbeing. 

  • Understand health concerns of local people directly from those potentially affected
    Understand local circumstances by understanding which built features locally are appreciated for health and which ones are detrimental
    Cross check needs based on local council guidance 
    Ranking and prioritising potential impacts desired or avoided

What public engagement can you do?

For public engagement and consultation, consultation methods will always be influenced by project scale, the type of neighbourhood, and other factors.

However, from a process point of view, there are three types of Health Impact Assessments with increasing scope (read more in our insights article on Health Impact Assessments). These are ‘desktop’ reviews, ‘rapid’ more extensive reviews, and, lastly, comprehensive appraisals with an in-depth work programme alongside design proposals development (see HUDU Rapid HIA guidance p5). 

For public engagement activities, large complex projects will draw on face-to-face meetings or focus groups, especially if the construction project is controversial or has significant impacts, such as a mine.

Some of the popular engagement methods for Health Impact Assessments include: 

  • Interviews: Good for getting a detailed view of stakeholders' understanding of local health outcomes  
  • Surveys: They can be distributed widely and can create a detailed picture if used well.
  • Workshops: Can be powerful to discuss local health outcomes and the potential impacts of a new development. They will require good facilitation and structure to enable a link between the conversation, secondary data, and the site context.  
  • Walking tours: Can be a powerful and fun activity to co-explore the local area and key issues with local stakeholders.

In many cases, a streamlined approach using a well-informed place baseline and online community consultations would be sufficient for residential projects.

Incorporating evidence and resident feedback on health impacts

What level of engagement is done naturally depends on the scope of the project. 

For comprehensive HIAs and, in most cases, even rapid HIAs, a low-cost, high-impact engagement activity that can reach a broad audience would certainly be preferred to see how the wider area is used. This can easily be done with the PlaceChangers Engagement tool

A good starting point is a well-informed place baseline for the site, capturing the local population's current socio-demographics and health issues. In the second step, this place baseline should ideally notice the presence and provision of built environment assets that impact health and well-being.

A community area appraisal can focus on specific built environment features of interest to Health Impact Assessment. Some built environment features relevant to HIAs are listed below. These features come from a review of the rapid Health Impact Assessment frameworks for London and Essex: 


Built environment aspect

Suggested check

Open spaces

Throughout, easily accessible

Natural spaces

Throughout, easily accessible

Healthcare facilities

Within active travel distance

Community facilities / centres

Within active travel distance


Ideally within active travel distance 

Active travel routes (walking & cycling)


Food outlets (excluding fast food)

Within active travel distance

Key retail / groceries

Within active travel distance

Child care & education

Within active travel distance

As part of your community consultation, you can then invite feedback on the wider area. Consider activities such as:

    Asking participants for their demographics and other population-relevant aspects matching to the Census so that consultation responses can be meaningfully compared to the local population
    Asking for feedback on their current health or general wellbeing using, for instance, the Census’ questions on wellbeing.
    Have meaningful feedback categories for relevant built environment features, such as rating service quality.
    Feedback on the quality of local services and establish underprovision in access to relevant built environment features and how these features are locally used.

Takeaways: Linking community consultation with health impacts

Incorporate the concerns raised in health impact assessments into your regular placemaking strategy to avoid seeing health impact assessments as box-ticking exercises.

Once health impacts are considered, community consultation can pick up on planning issues that the construction project can influence, either with more suitable on-site plans or appropriate off-site mitigations (see our article: Making the most of your developer contributions).

Digital tools can help with two things: they can support the generation of the relevant evidence in a short amount of time (see Place reports and the PlaceChangers Site Insights tool), and allow you to incorporate community feedback (see PlaceChangers Interactive Consultation tool)

Key takeaways are: 

    Use priorities identified from scoping work and desk study to inform the priorities in public engagement activities. Generate a place report from PlaceChangers Site Insights tool
    Prepare the engagement activity so that feedback can be related to relevant topics that impact long-term health, such as the quality of sites in terms of easy walking access to local services. This can be see in place reports.
    Providing sufficient guidance and structure to each of the responses in order to reference them in respect to meaningful things, such as a theme or a location.
    Use methods to prioritise local concerns with the public, ideally by sharing responses back publicly for others to review, with interactive proposal maps that enable feedback on topics relevant to your placemaking framework (see PlaceChangers Interactive Consultation tool).

Explore the PlaceChangers planning toolkit

PC Engagement - market leading planning engagement

Set up powerful planning consultations with interactive proposal maps. Shape your site layouts and proposals with public feedback.

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PC Site Insights - Place report tool for health and wellbeing

Create a place report and make use of location data and enrich your community engagement planning with insights on local people. 

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