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19/07/2018

How planning can slow the growth of fast food near schools

Fast food

Local authority attempts to restrict the number of takeaways near schools have had patchy success. It's time to adjust the approach, say Ashley Hayden.

The UK has an obesity crisis. The government’s guidance Child Obesity: a Plan for Action (January 2017) states that about a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese. More worryingly, younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer.

The levels of obesity are placing a further burden on economic development. It is estimated that it costs the economy about £27 billion each year and this is expected to increase to £49.9 billion by 2050. The importance of promoting healthy communities is also acknowledged in the revised NPPF (see section 8). As such, planning is seen as an essential ingredient in the fight against obesity.

Planners have long striven to enable a reduction in obesity levels, although it is recognised that there is no magic bullet and there are a wide range of measures that need to be evaluated.

In 2010, Barking and Dagenham became the first UK council to try to limit the number of fast-food outlets. Now, about 20 local authorities in England have adopted similar policies.

Despite this, in September 2017 on average 2.6 takeaways were located 400 metres from a school in England, compared with 2.3 in June 2014. This has resulted in about a quarter of the UK’s takeaways being located within a five-minute walk of a school, and deprived areas are exposed to five times as many takeaways when compared with affluent areas.

"In spite of the broad acceptance that communities need to become healthier, many local authorities frequently lose appeals to restrict hot food takeaways."

This is often because planners measure the distance from school to the proposed takeaway as the crow flies. Appellants typically argue this is illogical, as a typical walking distance should be considered.

But change is on the horizon. The emerging local plan for Milton Keynes (Plan:MK) proposes a policy that will restrict hot food takeaways opening near schools. Its novelty is that it informs planners how to measure the distance between a school and a potential takeaway. This will be based on the most logical walking distance from the main school entrance to the proposed site. The council accepts this as one solution in a range of packages to fight obesity, albeit limiting the number of fast-food shops near schools seems a logical strategy and one which must be evaluated.

But alternative policies must not be discounted. Planners should continue to innovate and implement bold policies to challenge the status quo to create new spatial environments.

Dr Ashley Hayden is a planning officer for Milton Keynes Council

Photo | iStock

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