Local Transport Today is the authoritative, independent journal for transport decision makers. Analysis, Comment & News on Transport Policy, Planning, Finance and Delivery since 1989.

Building connected communities

In previous planning and infrastructure investments, the impact on the health and wellbeing of transport users hasn’t always been a widely recognised consideration. But these aspects are now being seen as important drivers for planning and design; a trend that we should seek to embed into transport planning

Phillip Watson
17 February 2017
A connection to nature or sense of ownership are aspects that we need to give more emphasis to if we are to build well-connected communities for a healthier society
A connection to nature or sense of ownership are aspects that we need to give more emphasis to if we are to build well-connected communities for a healthier society


The pitfall of focusing solely on efficacy or cost is that it’s often to the detriment of human experience; both psychological and physiological. However, over recent years, we’ve seen a positive change towards attitudes to health and wellbeing of people and communities. 

Originally developed for use in the built environment, WellBriefingTM enables the most influential factors on health and wellbeing to be prioritised. Some of these, including noise, movement and air quality, are already relevant transport planning and urban design considerations. Others, such as a connection to nature or sense of ownership are aspects that we need to give more emphasis to if we are to build well-connected communities for a healthier society. 

To help with designing-in wellbeing benefits, Atkins’ WellBriefing digital design tool assists transport and urban design professionals and can enable local authorities to capture the benefits gained from prioritising transport users’ wellbeing during planning decisions.

WellBriefing works by engaging with users of transport modes right at the beginning of the planning process. By analysing their responses to confidential digital and face-to-face surveys, we explore aspects of the individual’s response to their environment. The data gained from this tells us which of the nine WellBriefing factors they prioritise for their wellbeing, and goes on to shape the design brief. By applying the relevant WellBriefing factors, through adoption of early stakeholder engagement, local authorities and communities can develop innovative best practice.

We know that wellbeing and feelings of empowerment are closely linked to an individual’s ability to feel in control of their environment. Even though some design decisions will be driven by factors such as cost, we need to give people as much control as possible so that they feel real ownership. This could be through adopting a WellBriefing approach to stakeholder engagement at pre-consultative stages to planning, so enabling  local authorities to better understand the influencing factors behind well-being.

Psychologically, we also know that stress comes from people feeling that they have little control over outcomes. By engaging this way with the community earlier on in the planning process, we can take steps to minimise the stress caused by transport users feeling they are ‘losing control’. Using the tool gives the local community a greater opportunity to define how they use and shape the space.  

By adopting a human-centred design approach we can promote a better understanding of needs between transport planners and transport users. The process encourages a more mature dialogue around mixed use and flexible spaces for different purposes. It aims to benefit transport planners by encouraging a more holistic environment that meets the needs of the different types of travel that people undertake at different times of the day. To build truly connected and healthy communities, we must put people at the heart of transport planning. 

For more information, please visit wellbriefing.com

Phillip Watson is speaking at the Sustainable Transport + Health Summit at Bristol City Hall on the 24 February

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