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What makes a healthy neighbourhood?

The Access to Healthy Assets and Hazards Index has been developed by the Consumer Data Research Centre to show variations in factors that contribute to neighbourhood health across the UK. The index was first released in 2017, with the third version of the index published in May 2022.

The index is made of four subject domains, each of which integrates a number of source measures, such as the distance to the nearest high-street gambling establishment or the modelled average concentration of sulpher dioxide pollution. The four domains are retail, health, blue/green space accessibility and air quality. For each, we map the quintiles that each small area in London falls into, with respect to the results across the whole of the UK. This allows us to both compare and contrast variations across London itself, but also how the city fares against the national average. The healthiest neighbourhoods have restricted access to retail "vices" such as gambling, pubs and fast-food outlets, but good access to health services such as doctors and hospitals, are in close proximity to recreational green space or "blue space" (water-based leisure) and have better air quality, with lower concentrations of the major pollutants associated with traffic and other emission sources.

Retail Domain (AHAH v3) (2022)

The Retail domain looks at accessibility to fast food, gambling, pubs/bars/nightclubs, off-licences and tobacconists/vape stores. The index considers that good accessibility to these is a negative contribution to the health of a neighbourhood. London scores poorly, almost universally, compared to the UK average, with the great majority of the city in the worst performing quintile. This is because of its dense network of retail options, with most residential parts of the city never far away from a combination of the AHAH retail categories. The same is true for most towns and cities in the UK, compared with rural areas, which by their nature have more limited access to such outlets. The retail data comes from the Local Data Company database of shop locations and attributes. Only very isolated communities in London, including Harefield in north-west Hillingdon, the Heathrow villages of Sipson and Harmondsworth, Kingston Vale on the edge of Richmond Park, and Pratts Botton and other nearby villages on the rural south-eastern edge of Bromley borough, generally perform better than the national average.

Health Domain (AHAH v3) (2022)

The Health domain, by contrast, looks at accessibility to GP practices, hospitals, dentists and pharmacies. Good access to these is likely to ensure a community can easily maintain its health. Londoners are never far from health outlets, with many facilities available throughout the city to cater for the large, dense population. The main is almost the inverse of of the Retail domain map - as population densities largely govern both where commercial organisations want to site their retail outlets, and health facilities are planned and built by health agencies. So almost all of London scores much better than the average across Great Britain, except for many of the isolated villages identified previously.

Blue/Green Space Domain (AHAH v3) (2022)

The Blue/Green Space domain combines two measures of access to passive green space (large parks, nature reserves, woodland and other managed open green spaces) and to blue space (rivers, lakes and ponds), both of which are recognised as being of positive benefit to mental health and wellbeing. London is a mixed picture here. The city has many large green spaces, but relatively little of it is close to waterways such as the River Thames. Some areas do suffer from being far away from the larger green spaces that are so beneficial to health, including much of Lambeth and Newham boroughs, Brent and Croydon. While much of London, including these boroughs, has a network of small parks, the grand open spaces of rural UK, and sea-side communities will always score more highly than in a major metropolitan area like London. But some large areas of London do score well, in particularly the communities around Richmond Park, alongside the Lea Valley in east London, around Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve in Hillingdon, near Hampstead Heath on the Camden/Haringey border, and most of Havering borough, an outer east London borough with an established network of large green spaces.

Air Quality Domain (AHAH v3) (2022)

Finally, the Air Quality domain uses DEFRA's Pollution Climate Model data for Sulphur Dioxide, Particulate Matter (PM) and Nitrogen Dioxide, to form an average pollution cloud map. London as expected scores very poorly compared with most of the rest of the UK, with only the very periphery not scoring in the worst of the quintiles. Central London and Heathrow have long been the two major pollution emitters and it is hard to escape the effects of these places if living in London. The sole areas to rank better than the UK average are on the southern tip of Bromley borough - Pratt's Bottom, and Biggin Hill. Both of these places are on hills, surrounded by rural landscapes, and amongst the highest points in the capital. Thus, the major pollutants emitted elsewhere in London don't make it to these places. Ironically, Biggin Hill is most famous as being the location of London's first passenger airport, although the facility has long closed and Heathrow is its successor.

For more information about the Access to Hazard and Health Assets (AHAH) index, and to download the data for the individual variables that make up each of the four domains, please see the record on CDRC Data.