Walking in Blacktown
New South Wales | Urban
The Local Government Area (LGA) of Wollondilly, in south-western Sydney, will undergo significant population and housing growth over the next 20 to 30 years. The town of Wilton, within the Wollondilly LGA, has been earmarked to accommodate much of the growth through the Wilton Junction Master Plan (2014); the plan provides for a population increase of more than 35,000 people. A Health Impact Assessment of this Master Plan became the catalyst for an innovative working partnership between Wollondilly Shire Council and the South Western Sydney Local Health District.
In 2014, the Wollondilly Shire Council participated in the Health Impact Assessment Learning by Doing program run by the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE), an organisational collaboration between the South Western Sydney Local Health District and the University of New South Wales. The council’s focus for this Health Impact Assessment was the Wilton Junction Master Plan. This work enabled council and Local Health District staff to enhance their shared interest in healthy built environment outcomes. This grew into a working relationship focused on research and policy development to build health considerations into land-use planning.
Towards the completion of the Wilton Junction Health Impact Assessment, the Local Health District approached Council with a focus on incorporating health considerations into council planning. This led to the creation of a jointly funded health-in-planning position between Council and the Local Health District.
The aim of the position was to better understand the opportunities for land-use planning and place-making that could deliver health and wellbeing outcomes in Wollondilly. The Health in Planning Group subsequently engaged CHETRE to undertake research on integrating health into Council’s planning processes. 
The new role, a Senior Strategic Health Planner, commenced in January 2019. The position is based in the Planning team at the Council and spends one day per week in the Healthy Places Team (Population Health) at the Local Health District. A similar position also exists in other councils within the Local Health District, including Fairfield and Campbelltown City Councils.
The relationship between Council and the Local Health District has created unique opportunities to place health at the core of urban and regional planning in Wollondilly. The partnership offers a clear example of how multi-sectoral collaboration can improve commitment to health-based planning outcomes.
Building health considerations into planning policies has required collaboration across council departments. While the Sustainable Growth team (strategic and growth planners) has been the focus, others, such as statutory planners and community outcomes officers, have also been involved in work, including a Health and Wellbeing Position Statement in the council’s Community Strategic Plan (2017) and, more recently, the Wilton Health & Wellbeing Strategy (draft 2019 yet to be endorsed).
Developing a council-wide appreciation and understanding of health-based planning requires ongoing effort. While there was strong support from several internal champions, building key partnerships and collaboration between the Strategic Planning team and other internal departments, have been essential. Additionally, the inclusion of health-related considerations in the Community Strategic Plan and other key council documents demonstrates some progress towards ingraining ‘health in planning’ principles. However, as indicated by CHETRE, the development of a high-level health vision would ‘create the impetus for health to influence and be considered at all other levels of planning’ .
Key learnings from this process include an understanding of the importance of: formalised working partnerships to clarify roles and responsibilities; a supportive base of colleagues; a willingness to draw on external sources of relevant reference information, such as the Healthy Built Environment Checklist; and, to use concepts such as ‘social determinants of health’ as a shared starting point for discussion.