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Ashley Baldwin: Early years and Town Planning

Ashley Baldwin MRTPI is Chair of RTPI West Midlands and Head of Spatial Planning at Hertfordshire County Council.

In 2021 the RTPI published a research paper titled ‘Children and Town Planning: creating places to grow’. It’s clearly an important theme for us as a profession and I welcomed the publication from the policy team at the RTPI. The publication coincided with the development of the West Midlands RTPI business plan where I was keen for a theme around early years and Town Planning. I am passionate about how planning can help positively shape the built environment for early years. My interest in this area stems from HM Government (2021) ‘The best start for life: a vision for the 1, 001 critical days, a policy paper produced as part of the early years healthy development review.

The publication states:

The 1,001 days from pregnancy to the age of two set the foundations for an individual’s cognitive, emotional and physical development. There is a well-established and growing international consensus on the importance of this age range; it is part of the World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health15, the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative16, and in England, both the NHS Long Term Plan17 and Public Health England’s 2016 guidance on “giving every child the best start in life”.

During the period from conception to age two, babies are uniquely susceptible to their environment. Babies are completely reliant on their caregivers and later development is heavily influenced by the loving attachment babies have to their parents.

It also provided the following set of actions:

In my view an omission within these actions is the lack of consideration around how the built environment can influence a start to life. This might be due to a lack of research into the subject matter, something which the RTPI West Midlands is looking to remedy with local universities.

As a profession we collate evidence and weigh this up as part of our decision making. The evidence within this publication and others that inform it is clear, the first 1,001 days are critical to an individual’s future. It seems obvious to me that shaping an environment to help with this may be a positive contribution towards supporting this theme. Wider early years and public health initiatives will be the primary drivers in supporting the theme but as built environment professionals my call is for us to consider how we can support those 1,001 days.

I will be interested to see the findings from any research we commission into the theme however I would expect that there are tools we already have that can support the theme. We already utilise Health Impact Assessments as part of some planning applications. This provides an opportunity to consider how a development might impact/ support the first 1,001 days. There are links with professionals responsible for taking forward this theme but are there planning policies that can support the work they are doing?

The above is something I will continue to reflect on and where the opportunity arises, I will support the theme working closely with professionals in public health and early years. At present a clear link is the delivery of infrastructure that supports development. With this in mind, I was pleased to award Redditch Borough Council with this year’s RTPI West Midland Chair’s Award for the development of play space within Arrow Valley Park.

The provision of play space goes beyond the theme of the first 1,001 days; nonetheless there is a link to the theme. In this example the Council, working with partners, implemented an innovative scheme that fits within a parkland. It provides the opportunity for access solely to the play area but also as a destination for families who can then use the wider facilities of the park. Connectivity is possible via foot from around the locality with an excellent system of cycle/ footways that link back to when the New Town was planned. Linking this back to the theme of the first 1,001 days, the new play provision does provide a positive contributory factor in that it will allow existing and new residents the opportunity to experience a high quality, welcoming and healthy environment which is connected to the wider park and local residential areas.


Interested in this topic?

Then why not take a look at other RTPI research including Reclaiming Play in Cities - Burnt Oak, London and Child Friendly Planning in the UK: A Review.


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