A significant number of our region's children have developmental problems.
A significant number of our region's children have developmental problems. SerrNovik

One in five Lismore kids have health, learning problems

MORE than one in five of Lismore's kindergarten students have developmental problems.

But experts say town planners may be the key to reversing a worrying trend that is impacting the future health, development and learning outcomes of our children.

The Australian Early Development Census tested 522 local children in 2015, finding 21.6 per cent had physical, social, emotional, cognitive or learning difficulties.

This is below the national average of 22 per cent.

About 13 per cent of local kids had problems in two or more developmental areas.

Researchers have found poorly designed neighbourhoods had higher levels of children who were not developmentally on track with their peers.

They want town planners to roll out more open spaces, parks with interactive play areas and local early childhood services as well as pedestrian and cycle friendly street infrastructure to help reverse the trend.

Housing density, street design, traffic exposure and access to parks and social, education and health services all had an impact on childhood development, said University of WA Public Health senior research fellow Dr Hayley Christian.

"If we get the built form of neighbourhoods wrong - because it is permanent and it is expensive - it can have a negative impact for a long time," she said.

"Kids who have more outdoor space in their neighbourhood, are exposed to less traffic and have access to key destinations like playgroups, child health services and high quality childcare are less likely to be developmentally vulnerable and will stay on track."

The Planning Institute of Australia's John Brockhoff said the institute was "very strong" on the need for child-friendly healthy communities.

"We have a plethora of guidance for councils on things like walkable communities and good open space that is fun and interesting," he said.

Lismore Council senior strategic planning coordinator Paula Newman said the needs of children informed the council's planning decisions.

"When new developments are being considered, council looks closely at the availability of open space and recreational opportunities," he said.

"There are also requirements for minimum areas of private open space for new housing, especially dual occupancy and unit development." - NewsRegional

HOW WE COMPARE

Region, % of kids with at least one problem

Lismore, 21.6%

Clarence Valley, 18.5%

Coffs Harbour, 22.7%

Sydney, 17.4%

NSW, 20.2%

Australia, 22%

SOURCE: Australian Early Development Census