Harrow’s health and wellbeing strategy

Harrow’s 2020-2025 Health and Wellbeing Strategy is open for consultation: https://consult.harrow.gov.uk/consult.ti/HWell/consultationHome

Please respond asking for specific measures to improve Harrow’s streets to enable more walking and cycling. The deadline is 17 Feb 2020.

Harrow’s health problems: diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity

Harrow has the second highest proportion of people with diabetes in England – 9.6% (https://www.diabetes.org.uk/in_your_area/london/london-region-news-/new-figures-rise-diabetes). Diabetes is a serious chronic disease which can lead to blindness, kidney damage, amputation, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Obesity and physical inactivity are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. In 2018-2019, 7.7% of Harrow’s population was obese, and this proportion has been rising. As well as diabetes, obesity increases the risk of depression, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

The physical environment is a major factor in causing obesity. Street that are unpleasant for walking and cycling lead to more car journeys and less active travel.

Harrow has the fourth lowest level of cycling in England (Department for Transport: Walking and Cycling Statistics 2018). A high proportion of Harrow’s adult population are physically inactive, 30.1% in 2017-18, which is the fifth highest in London.

Improving Harrow’s streets to help people to be healthy

The design of Harrow’s streets can be improved to help people to incorporate healthy physical activity in their everyday lives. Studies elsewhere in London showed that removing through traffic from residential areas using ‘low-traffic neighbourhood’ schemes resulted in people walking or cycling for 41 minutes more per week after just one year.

Harrow should follow the example of boroughs such as Waltham Forest which have put in place measures to reduce traffic and make streets into healthy places for people rather than dominated by cars. Quiet streets are better for people’s mental health. ‘Pocket parks’ on the street encourage people to socialise and enjoy the streets. People are more physically active because they walk or cycle more, and drive less.

Proposals in Harrow’s strategy

The strategy has a vision for a ‘happy, healthy borough’, and aims to halt the rise in obesity by 2025 through a multi-factorial focus on prevention. The strategy mentions improving the environment to enhance active travel, and improving access to green space and leisure facilities. Regeneration programmes aim to improve walking and cycling routes and access to public transport, to increase physical activity levels.

Our recommendations for strengthening the strategy

Harrow needs to put public health and the environment at the heart of its transport and planning strategy. There are many public health interventions recommended by national bodies such as the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph41).

The strategy should make specific recommendations to improve Harrow’s streets, including:

  • a programme to develop low traffic neighbourhoods across the borough – these are low cost interventions that reduce traffic and increase walking and cycling
  • school streets, to enable children to walk or cycle safely to school and incorporate physical activity in their everyday life
  • cycle tracks along major roads and better pedestrian crossings, to enable people to walk or cycle more
  • a default 20mph speed limit across the borough
  • measures to reduce car use, such as parking charges and road use charges, which could fund improvements to streets