London boroughs 'should tackle obesity through planning'

London boroughs should adopt local planning policies to reduce obesity levels by tackling the spread of fast food outlets, according to a new toolkit backed by the mayor of London.

Fast food outlets: SPG could help tackle spread
Fast food outlets: SPG could help tackle spread
The Takeaways Toolkit, being published later this week by the London Food Board in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, sets out a range of ways that local authorities can tackle the impact of fast food on Londoners' health.

According to the Greater London Authority (GLA), currently there are an estimated 8,273 fast food takeaway shops in London, one for every 1,000 Londoners. Data analysed by the GLA suggests that the London boroughs with the highest concentration of fast food takeaways tend to also rank amongst the most deprived boroughs in the capital. Out of the top 10 boroughs for concentration of fast food takeaways seven feature in the top 10 for levels of deprivation, it says.

Amongst several ways to tackle this, the new guide suggests London boroughs develop supplementary planning guidance (SPG) to impose restrictions on numbers of fast food outlets and where they can be sited.

The guide says: "As traditional modes of shopping have declined the high street baker and butcher have been replaced by global chains and local, independent fast food stores. These are often seen by town centre planners as an important part of the economic vibrancy of a high street.

"Often run by local entrepreneurs, many from ethnic minority communities and employing local people they fulfil an important local economic and community function. However, as the modern world begins to wake up to the threat of a growing obesity epidemic more and more people have been turning their attention to the impact this food has on the health of the population."

The guide looks at several examples of boroughs which have introduced SPGs to tackle obesity, including the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham which adopted an SPD in July 2010. The guide says that, since then, "no new hot food takeaways have been permitted in the borough and eight hot food takeaway applications have been refused. The SPD is now being promoted as one approach to controlling the number of fast food takeaways in an area."

The guide also details the success rate of councils in defending appeals against refusals of applications for fast food outlets on health grounds. It cites an example in 2012 relating to a decision by the London Borough of Newham to turn down an application to grant planning permission for a new fast food takeaway which was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate.

The guide says: "The appellant wanted planning permission to change a premises from retail class A1 to A5 (hot food takeaway). The Planning Inspectorate gave four reasons for the decision to reject the appeal of which two were over concentration and healthy lifestyles. The inspector found that Newham’s Core Strategy aimed to ensure town and local centres are ‘vibrant, vital and valued,’ and aims to prevent non-retail uses, particularly hot food take-aways from clustering or reaching disproportionate levels.

"In this case there were three other A5 premises within a short distance of the appeal premises. It was felt that the proposal would add to local clustering and was therefore contrary to the core strategy."

The Takeaways Toolkit will be available here from Wednesday.

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