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More planning powers needed to tackle childhood obesity – London Councils

Words: Laura Edgar

London boroughs need stronger planning powers to “clamp down” on fast-food outlets near schools in the fight against childhood obesity, according to London Councils.

The representative body of the 32 boroughs and the City of London is calling for the government’s new national childhood obesity strategy to support boroughs' efforts to improve children’s health by “strengthening planning and licensing laws”.

London Councils says strengthening the position of health in the National Planning Policy Framework would simplify the process and “improve the consistency of planning decisions” so it is ensured that local health issues are addressed, particularly where there is high saturation of fast-food outlets near schools.

It also suggests that increasing local power over business rates would enable boroughs to use discounts to incentivise healthier food establishments.

Teresa O’Neill OBE, executive member for health, London Councils, said boroughs are using existing planning powers to regulate the number of fast-foods outlets near schools, on high streets and in town centre as well as sharing best practice to ensure that “planning decisions are made in the right place for the right reasons”.

However, “giving boroughs more clout in the planning system to prioritise public health will allow us to create a healthier environment for London’s children and young people, which when combined with other initiatives will have a significant impact on childhood obesity rates in the capital”.

Speaking to The Planner Victoria Pinoncély RTPI research officer, said ensuring the health and wellbeing of people in cities is “one of the most pressing challenges facing societies, as the costs linked to health conditions such as obesity are “increasingly unsustainable”.

The built environment, Pinoncély added, plays an “important part” in people’s health.

“For example, developments in remote locations which encourage car use at the expense of walking can be obesogenic, and people need to access retail outlets where they can purchase fresh food. Therefore planning can play a critical role in ensuring better health outcomes, including through using planning powers to regulate the number of fast-food outlets.

The government’s national childhood obesity strategy is expected to be published in March 2016.

Image credit | iStock