Regional leaders join together for second transport and health partnership event

“…what’s transport got to do with health? My answer? Absolutely everything.”

Public Health Professional Luke Robertshaw is as an advocate for improving public health. In fact, he has just recently spent a year with Transport North East in a unique placement, focusing on improving links between the two industries. Currently, it is estimated that only 15% of our health is influenced by healthcare, and the majority of our health is actually shaped by wider factors such as education, employment, housing, our current environment and our ability to travel to others. This is why better integrating the two industries, and encouraging cross-sector partnership work and events are vital to improving knowledge and policy development.

On Friday 14th July, leaders at Transport North East (TNE) joined forces with academics at Newcastle University, North East Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) and the North East Office for Health Improvements and Disparities (OHID), as well as representatives from public transport operators, Nexus, and local authority transport teams, to host an interactive transport and health workshop for leading transport and health representatives across the region. The event was a joint event, organised by Public Health Professional Luke Robertshaw, Dr Andrew Kingston and Dr Susan Kirk from Newcastle University and Claire Matthews from OHID North East to develop second of its kind transport and health event following the launch of the cross-sector partnership in December 2022 which focuses on tackling health inequalities in the North East of England through sustainable transport solutions.

The workshop event took place at Newcastle Helix, within the Urban Science Building, a suitable location for the event as a key part of the Newcastle Helix vision is to create a full-scale demonstrator of urban innovation – a ‘living laboratory’ underpinning research to make urban centres more sustainable for future generations. It saw key leaders across the seven local authority areas in the North East come together in an effort to work towards shared regional objectives and create opportunities for better collaboration on projects.

The morning kicked off with an introduction from Claire Matthews, Health and Wellbeing Lead for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (North East) within the Department for Health and Social Care. In her current role, Claire provides system leadership for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, healthy weight, physical activity, food, and the healthy places agenda. In line with her professional knowledge, Claire focused on the current state of public health within the North East of England and how our region compares with the rest of England. According to OHID, life expectancy for men and women in the North East is lower than the average across England and:

  • 70% of adults are classed as overweight or obese
  • 26% of adults were classed as inactive in 2020/21
  • 25% of children in reception are overweight or obese
  • 41% of year 6 children are overweight or obese
  • 13% of adults walking for travel at least 3 days per week (England 15%)

Claire then went on to delve into the importance of active travel and better transport systems, and how this can improve public health within the North East. Something which we learnt more about from Luke Robertshaw later in the day!

Next, we heard from Lucy Saunders, founder and director of Healthy Streets. Healthy Streets is an approach to designing and looking at streets which was developed by Lucy through her research on the interface of urban spaces and human health. Lucy works with organisations across the world adapting her Healthy Streets Approach to each context and uses the Approach to engage, influence, and coordinate a wide range of stakeholders around a coherent vision.

“Next time you’re walking down a street, have a think about how healthy the street feels… Would people walking feel that the street has been designed to meet their needs? Would people cycling feel that the street has been designed to meet their needs?”  

Lucy made it clear that it’s vital not to see as a street as ‘Healthy Street’ or ‘Not a Healthy Street’ – it’s an approach which should be intrinsic in the way we view, change, build and adapt our streets. After Lucy’s presentation, attendees were then given an opportunity to ask questions and discuss what they’d learnt about the Healthy Streets Approach in table discussions, before going onto topic discussions where they had the opportunity to discuss what they had learnt so far and ask questions with transport and health leaders across the North East on topics including:

  • Human Centered Streets
  • Buses for health
  • Connecting people living and working in rural areas
  • Planning for healthy and sustainable travel
  • Connecting to health care settings
  • Ageing, transport, and health
  • Scaling up school streets

Luke followed on by looking more closely at health and the importance of considering health when creating policies for different public sectors including transport. Luke’s discussions centered on the future of united notions of transport and public health, and the importance of shaping policy creation through the Health in All Policies framework (HiAP), defined as:

“An approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts in order to improve population health and health equity.”

“We learnt that there is value in seeing health as something which is embedded in everything, rather than something which we look at in silo. Every transport policy and strategy which is created should consider the impact on public health, something which was done in the creation of the North East Active Travel Strategy.

Dr Andrew Kingston, an academic from Newcastle University, then presented the ways in which current research and further research opportunities connected to the inherent link between transport and health can help to deliver concrete results for local people. Finally, Professor Phil Blythe CBE held closing remarks Professor Blythe shared his insights on what Newcastle University is doing to progress research and discussed ways in which sectors can work better together to improve health outcomes for local people.

The workshop was the second stage of partnership work, better information sharing and collaboration, as Transport North East plan to work more closely with Newcastle University, ADPH, and OHID (North East) to achieve shared objectives for transport and health going forward, in order to improve public health in the North East of England.

You can find out more about the work TNE are doing to improve public health with transport at

Read our recent Transport and Health blog by Luke Robertshaw here.

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