Healthway grant changes the face of Perth suburbs

A Healthway health promotion research project has helped to improved urban design and the physical and social health of people living in many suburbs in Perth and the Peel Region.

The RESIDE Environments Project has provided new data to guide planning policy that aims to improve human health in a way that has not been achieved before. It is highly regarded throughout the planning industry and has won several planning industry awards.

The RESIDE research team headed by Professor Fiona Bull, Director of the Centre for Built Environment and Health, at the University of Western Australia, set out to discover which features of suburbs were associated with healthy or unhealthy behaviour. It also looked at the impact of planning policy on the health and well-being of Perth residents.

The study was designed around 73 new housing developments under construction across metropolitan Perth and the Peel. A total of 1813 new home owners who had purchased land and home packages and were planning to relocate to one of the new developments agreed to join the RESIDE study.
They were asked to complete surveys across four time points – while their new home was being built, one year after moving into their new home, around two years after moving in and between five to seven years after the initial move.

The researchers looked closely at the health and well-being of the new home owners assessing many health related issues including walking, cycling, public transport use, diet, mental health, sense of community, perceptions of crime and feelings of safety as well as exploring why they chose their new neighbourhood.

The neighbourhood was defined as a 1600 metre road network buffer around the home, the equivalent of a 10 to 15 minute walk. Within this area, the research team studied urban features such as street connectivity, mixed land use, public transport, residential density, housing diversity, access to public open space, community facilities, shops and footpaths.
By comparing the neighbourhood features with the data obtained from the new residents, the RESIDE team determined the long term impact of urban design on the physical and mental health of residents.

The results of have been used to create guidelines for urban design to improve residents’ health and social interaction within their neighbourhoods. Two in particular, the Healthy Active by Design and the Public Open Space (POS Tool) have been used extensively by State government agencies including the Department of Planning and the WA Planning Commission, local government authorities and property developers.

The POS Tool, launched in 2013, is the first of its kind in Australia. The web based tool can be used by the general public, planners and developers as a guide to the provision and location of public open space to encourage people to get out and about in their suburb. These details include trees and tree canopy cover, landscaping and footpath design.

Members of the public can use the POS Tool website to quickly find their closest public open space or a park with certain facilities they are looking for such as exercise equipment. Planners and developers use the website to help make planning decisions incorporating parks and other public open space and to assess future public needs in line with anticipated population growth.

The POS Tool has won awards from the Planning Institute of Australia (WA) and Parks and Leisure Australia (WA) for the use of technology and research. It has been used in many developments including the City of Canning’s public open space strategy and the City of Fremantle’s new 2020 Green Plan. Other local government agencies are currently using it to develop similar strategies. For more information, visit

The Healthy Active by Design Guidelines were developed through working extensively with other agencies and launched in 2014. They drew extensively on the knowledge gained from the RESIDE study and were welcomed by the planning industry receiving two Planning Institute of WA Awards for planning excellence that year.

The guidelines, which are administered by the Heart Foundation, consist of practical guides, checklists and case studies to assist planners to create urban environments that encourage healthy and active living by people who live there. The guidelines have been used by the City of Wanneroo for structure plan developments in Alkimos and South Yanchep, the City of Cockburn has developed its Cockburn Coast Structure plan using the guidelines and they have influenced the City of Kwinana’s Wellard village development.

The Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale has recently completed its ‘Draft Public Health Plan for 2015 and Beyond!’ The plan acknowledges that the urban environments where people live and work can have a significant impact on community health. The Shire has used the Health Active by Design Master Checklist to ensure new residential developments are based on healthy environments and has made a commitment to review its local planning policies “though a health filter to ensure physical activity outcomes are identified.”

The Shire’s Senior Environmental Health Officer, James Wickens, said that guidelines had been extremely useful in the development of the draft public health plan.

“We wanted to look beyond the usual environmental health topics of noise and sewerage and do something about preventing chronic disease in the community,” Mr Wickens said.

“The guidelines provide very useful health information and enable us to sit down with planners and talk their language.

“Serpentine Jarrahdale is the fastest growing local government area in the Peel and we have major urban developments at Byford and heading south towards Mundijong.

“If we were a coastal shire we would be looking to link our recreation areas with the coast and in our case the guidelines have shown us how to link our walk tracks with trails already in the Darling Scarp.”

Healthway’s Director, Health Promotion, Dr Jo Clarkson, said: “Healthway aims to help to add to the knowledge about what works to improve the health of the community.

“The RESIDE study has led to real health benefits for West Australians – it has put health on the planning agenda so that new suburbs are designed to get the best possible health outcomes for people who live there,” she said.

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