Cherwell District Council: twinning housing growth with healthy lifestyles

Cherwell District Council are a lead organisation as part of Bicester’s Healthy New Town Programme (BHNT) which aims to use housing growth to develop communities that promote health and wellbeing, prevent illness and keep people independent. This case study shows how district councils have improved the health of their local areas.

Bicester is one of NHS England’s demonstrator sites for its Healthy New Town Programme. Unlike many of the others in the pilot, Bicester is not being developed from scratch. Instead, there is an existing town that will be doubled in size by 2031 with the creation of 16,000 new homes. 

The programme is being delivered by a partnership involving Cherwell District Council, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, the Oxford Academic Health Science Network and A2 Dominion. NHS England has provided more than £900,000 of funding over the past three years to help organise projects related to health and wellbeing. 

One of the key priorities is to reduce the number of people who are overweight or obese. Currently one in four children aged two to 10 and 58 per cent of women and  65 per cent of men are either overweight  or obese.

Highlights of progress

Over the last two years a number of different projects have been launched. Three 5km health routes for walkers and runners have been marked out to encourage residents into becoming active. The introduction of the signage has already led to a 27 per cent increase in footfall.

Elsewhere a way-finding scheme to key destinations in the town has been installed, giving average walking and  cycling times to nudge residents into  ditching their cars. 

Feedback from residents has been incredibly positive. One woman said the cycle routes and 5km trail had inspired her to get back on her bike “after a 40-year break”. Another resident described the routes as ‘beautiful’ and took him to places he had never seen before in his 17 years living in the town.

Schools have also been engaged. Five of the 12 local primary schools are taking part in the Daily Mile, while all primary and secondary schools have participated in the walk-to-school week, the highest participation in Oxfordshire.

Last summer a Bicester Green Spaces Summer Challenge was launched with residents given leaflets mapping all the green spaces they were asked to visit. Bikeability courses were also run.

Future plans

The council is now working closely with local businesses, stressing the benefits of having a healthy workforce. A number of businesses have expressed an interest in mental wellbeing and eight businesses in  the town have trained mental health first aiders to support their colleagues at work.

This work has also been twinned with the development of new models of providing health care. The partnership has been particularly active with diabetes patients.

As part of this an information evening was organised with the help of GPs. As well as hearing from doctors, the activity opportunities available locally were also promoted. Over a quarter of those that attended signed up for new activities. The use of new digital technology to allow  remote consultation is also being trialled. 

Meanwhile, consideration is being given to how primary and community services are located. The partnership is seeking a site for a new health campus, which will house GPs alongside other key services such as physios, pharmacists and social prescribers.

Bicester Healthy New Town Programme Director Rosie Rowe said: “We know there is a shortage of doctors and the old concept of small practices with a list of 6,000 patients is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

“The development of the new town gives 
us the opportunity to look at the model of primary care and integrating it with some new initiatives we are developing including the use of social prescribing. It is something we are very keen on.”

Learning and key messages

Dr Rowe said: “We are beginning to see some real progress. Residents are becoming more active, which is great. I think what our approach shows is that you need  a system wide approach involving the built environment, community activation and new models of care – and then you need to develop that along place-based lines.

“By doing it across the whole population you create a momentum. The whole community see that they can all benefit. You don’t necessarily get that if you just target one particular group.”

And while Bicester is part of the new town movement, she believes the lessons learned from the programme so far are relevant to  all councils. “We have built it around housing growth. That is something virtually all areas will be seeing. By supporting both new  and existing residents, you can help change behaviour and also make the prospect  
of new development more appealing,”  
Dr Rowe added.


Rose Rowe 
Bicester Healthy New Town Programme Director, Cherwell District Council