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Mental health is undoubtedly one of the hottest cross-industry topics at the moment, especially with so many people working from home in the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Senior Planner, Melissa Balk, looks at the importance of mental health in town planning – as originally featured in The Planner.

The importance of mental health and wellbeing is increasingly becoming a key focus for the government, charities and employers, and now more than ever people are being urged to take care of their mental health as well as their physical health. Mental health and wellbeing should be a priority for town planning, and although it is slowly being recognised in some Development Plan policies, more needs to be done to ensure it is at the forefront of planning decisions.

Planners have a responsibility to create places that contribute positively to mental health and wellbeing. Wellbeing means different things to different people, so we cannot rely on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Different age groups, personalities and those with various health conditions all have different requirements for wellbeing, which should become more standardised across all scales of development. The function of green infrastructure is a key consideration and it has an important role to play in looking after our wellbeing; the design of it can dramatically impact how a person feels.

It is no longer enough to provide green spaces with simply the inclusion of a play area for children. Provision for everyone, not just young people, should become a standard requirement. We need to see more variety in green infrastructure to ensure it can contribute to all of our wellbeing. One example that can be explored is the different needs of introverts and extroverts. The ability to recharge our batteries is a significant factor in achieving good wellbeing. Extroverts may prefer social spaces such as play areas and sports pitches to re-charge their batteries, whereas introverts may find these areas draining and benefit more from quiet pockets of tranquil space.

Specialist areas such as sensory gardens to benefit those with neurological and spectrum conditions can also have a positive effect on wellbeing and providing facilities such as these should be more of a forethought in design. Although it would be impossible to cater for every interest, all needs should be taken into consideration to ensure there is a balance throughout the green infrastructure. It often does not take much to transform a space into one which could ultimately have a hugely positive impact on the lives of a number of people, but as wellbeing is not necessarily a requirement in planning, opportunities can often be missed.

All planning practitioners should think more about wellbeing and the responsibility to create places that contribute positively to mental health.With the charity Mind estimating that approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, mental health and wellbeing should join issues such as climate change and biodiversity at the top of the town planning agenda.

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