Katherine Jones is a planning consultant with a unique insight into the potential for development to inspire healthy lifestyles.

In addition to being an Associate Parter in Carter Jonas’s Oxford office, Katherine represents Great Britain in her age group in duathlon and triathlon. Sporting achievements – whether in relation to planning and regeneration or more generally – are never far from her mind.  

In the World Triathlon Multisport Championships held in Ibiza last summer, Katherine competed in the sprint duathlon finishing 7th her category, and 3rd British female, coming in just over five minutes behind the winner. She has also represented Great Britian at the European Triathlon Championships in Valencia, Munich and Madrid. It is a passion which requires many hours of training each week and also means that annual leave is frequently spent on training holidays which involve hours running, cycling and swimming each day, often in extreme heat.

Sports facilities in large-scale regeneration

Katherine’s love of sport has given her a strong interest in relevance of sports facilities to planning, specifically in large-scale regeneration projects. 

Currently local authorities provide the majority of funding for sports and leisure facilities. Combined with parks and green spaces, over £1 billion is spent by councils each year on the UK’s 2,727 leisure centres, the majority of our 27,000 parks, along with grass pitches, swimming pools, health and fitness facilities and sports halls.   

But these services face financial difficulties due to both reduced funding and inflationary pressures, specifically energy costs. In September last year, UKactive calculated that 26 pools and leisure centres had closed permanently due to energy costs between March 2022 and September 2023, in addition to 13 temporary closures and 378 sites either at risk of closure or with significant service restrictions in place.  

The role of section 106 funding and planning gain

Although Section 106 funding is sometimes a significant contributor to community and sporting facilities, there is currently reduced opportunity for planning gain to address this shortfall. As Katherine explains,New residential developments typically contribute towards the improvement of existing community and sporting facilities to maintain their upkeep, but are not of a sufficient scale to deliver entirely new facilities or sports complexes at the rate required to serve the identified need nationally. 

 “It would take new towns to provide the scale of new facilities to match those which are closing and we haven’t seen this level of investment into sports since the 2012 London Olympics.

Planning for the 2012 London Olympics was well underway when, in 2010, Katherine was studying for her geography degree at Royal Holloway. 

Inspired by her love of sport and supported by fellow athletes at Royal Holloway who offered connections to the 2012 Olympic Committee, Katherine saw the opportunity to study the planned long-term impact of the Olympics. She explains the unique opportunity that the Games presented to London and her motivation for understanding it better: “It is widely accepted that mega-events such as the Olympic Games have a major impact on the host city and its people, although in the past, this has tended to focus on making the event itself the most successful and impressive to date, with little regard to the long-term social and environmental impact. 

“When London bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a promise was made that the city would be home to the 'most sustainable Games ever'. I chose to focus on London’s bid to inspire lasting, positive change in the form of a sustainable legacy, beginning at the grassroots in the UK and establishing a blueprint for other nations to follow.

The complexities and achievements of sustainability

While clearly important, sustainability is complex, broad and sometimes viewed as a hollow aspiration - largely because it transcends so many levels. And so the success of the Olympic legacy rested on its ability to respond on each of those levels. “On one level,” explains Katherine, “was the ambitious plan to use the event in East London as a vehicle to provide physical change in terms of regeneration of the immediate area. Much of my research focussed on the measures undertaken to ensure environmental sustainability within the Park itself, along with those to secure an after-use and long-term usage of the site. 

“I had the considerable benefit of speaking to members of the Olympic committee and observing the Olympic Park – and the considerable commitment to environmental sustainability – taking shape. The attention paid to carbon reduction and water efficiency, amongst other initiatives, was well ahead of its time. 

“But looking back twelve years later, one of the most significant achievements was on another level: in social sustainability, notably the ability of the Games to inspire sport and healthy lifestyles.

Impact on London

A large proportion of London’s East End - particularly within the five Olympic host boroughs - is characterised by poverty, unemployment, poor housing and low levels of education.  As such it was a prime target for social regeneration and outreach work to in relation to health and wellbeing. 

The transformational impact of the games on healthy lifestyles is clearly evident in East London,” says Katherine. “Local residents are now just minutes’ walk from a 50 metre swimming pool, a BMX track suitable for riders of all ages and abilities, a multi-use community arena, a tennis centre, a hockey centre and 10 five-a-side football pitches.  

“And in addition to these facilities, the Olympics showed local residents, though an extensive outreach programme, the links between sport and healthy lifestyles. Even those who don’t necessary choose to pursue sports can benefit from the new walking and cycling connections which connect Stratford for many miles across London and encourage people to get out and about. 

“It’s not just in London either: participation in British cycling and triathlon have rocketed – the UK leads the way in term of the elite levels of triathlon and I’m convinced that the 2012  Games was the catalyst for bringing more people, specifically younger generations, into sports.

Clearly London succeeded where the likes of Rio and Madrid struggled to make good long-term use of the Olympic site and this is clearly evidenced. But the impact on healthy lifestyles, still on the rise twelve years on, is perhaps and even greater aspect of the London 2012 Olympic legacy which in some respects has countered a declined in funding for community-based sports.  

As Katherine says, “We tend to think about planning gain in terms of facilities and funding and while this is clearly very important, we should not underestimate the benefits of outreach and inspiration linked to delivery of sports facilities. While an event the size of the Olympics presented a unique opportunity, similarly more modest facilities such as those provided through town centre regeneration projects are able impact on attitudes and enthusiasm for active lifestyles, and both physical and mental wellbeing.

Get in touch
Katherine Jones
Associate Partner, Planning & Development
01865 404448 Email me About Katherine

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