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The built environment

The built environment

There are strong links between the environment and health. The places in which people live, work and socialise and the connections between these spaces all influence physical and mental wellbeing. The built environment includes the places where we live, work and spend our leisure time. All of these shape the social, economic and environmental conditions on which good health is dependent. The built environment can contribute positively or negatively towards health.

How does the built environment affect health?

Housing and other buildings

We spend most of our time indoors. For good health, people require well-designed homes, workplaces, schools and other buildings that are dry, warm, insulated and spacious enough for their needs. Lack of access to and the poor design of homes, poor air quality, dampness, infestation, overcrowding, noise, and lighting can all contribute to poor health. Adaptations to homes may also be necessary for people with particular needs.


The neighbourhood where we live also impacts on our health. Street environments which appear safe and attractive can encourage walking and cycling in preference to car travel. This could increase physical activity and reduce air and noise pollution. Pleasant places encourage people to spend time outside, so providing opportunities for exercise, social interaction and recreation.

Green spaces have always been used as areas for relaxation and places for people to meet and rest. Evidence suggests that exposure to green spaces can improve mental and physical wellbeing and stimulate social interaction.

Safe street environments encourage social interaction and reduce the risk of injuries to pedestrians. They also encourage children to walk to school and play outside, building healthy physical activity habits for life. Increased physical activity, including cycling, also contributes positively to good mental health.


Everyone relies on the transport system to access services which enable them to carry out the activities necessary for everyday life.  The transport system provides access to employment, education, healthcare, shops and leisure, as well as allowing social activity.  An efficient, safe transport system is therefore critical to health and wellbeing.

Transport planning can enhance health by providing accessible and safe foot and cycleways, good public transport links and improving access to green spaces and other amenities. Making healthy choices the easy choices can encourage people to change their behaviour to increase their physical activity levels and help them maintain a healthy weight. You can find further information on the transport policy page.

Air pollution

Heavy car use and large amounts of traffic cause air pollution. A high level of air pollution increases cases of asthma. Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of death from cardiovascular and respiratory causes and lung cancer.

Travelling on foot, by bicycle or on public transport decreases overall car use. This has a beneficial effect on air pollution which over time could lead to a decrease in respiratory illness. Further information is available on the air quality page.


Any development of a built environment can have an impact on health. There is an opportunity for how new development and the associated transport infrastructure is designed and planned in South Gloucestershire to contribute positively to the health and wellbeing of future residents.

Planning for large-scale new developments allows us to build in healthy development principles such as increased access to green space, opportunities for physical activity, appropriate transport infrastructure to address air quality issues and high-quality homes and neighbourhoods which have good access to local services and facilities. Spatial and transport planning gives us the chance to improve the health of future generations by making the right development and infrastructure decisions now. You can find out further information in the planning section.

How are we tackling this?

South Gloucestershire Council is working hard to develop good connections between public health, the built and natural environment and how we plan and deliver the new homes, jobs and transport infrastructure.

The Public Health, Planning and Transport teams are working together to use public health evidence to support how we can deliver sustainable new communities and ensure proposed planning and transportation policy and actions deliver good health outcomes for all.

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