Research into the importance of integrating public health issues with urban planning has secured a top award for a student from the University of Ulster’s School of the Built Environment.
Alex O’Hara scooped the 2013 Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI NI) Joanne Mathers Award, presented in memory of the young mother who was shot dead by the IRA in 1981, as she collected census forms in the Gobnascale area of Derry~Londonderry.
The Award is given annually to the University of Ulster MSci Planning and Property Development degree student who has performed best in their final year research project.
Alex, from Ballyclare, graduated earlier this year and undertook his research with Belfast Healthy Cities, a citywide partnership working to improve the population’s health equity and wellbeing.
He reviewed a wide range of existing national and international publications to identify why planning matters to health.
The key message in his research supported the view that a quality built environment can greatly affect the standard of health and wellbeing of those who interact with it.
It also confirmed the view that health/environment links have ramifications for future decisions on improving wellbeing, given that some current development trends compromise health.
Alex’s research also showed that further work needs to be undertaken to improve the level of mutual understanding and integration between planning and health professionals.
Gavan Rafferty, Lecturer in Spatial Planning and Development, said Belfast Healthy Cities was delighted with the quality of Alex’s work.
He added: “His research provided added value to the organisation’s commitment to developing knowledge of building healthier cities. It also has the potential to inform wider practice in Northern Ireland, demonstrating the benefits of students undertaking ‘real life’ research projects.”
Professor Greg Lloyd, Head of the School of the Built Environment at Ulster congratulated Alex on his “well-deserved” success.
He said: “These are exciting and promising times for planning in Northern Ireland, with a reformed land use planning system in hand, the Review of Public Administration and the introduction of community planning to take place shortly – and this prestigious award reflects these ambitions.
“It is richly deserved by Alex and I wish him every success in his career. The School of the Built Environment is very proud of him.”