A wicked problem

An inspector has allowed a takeaway near to three primary schools on Merseyside, reasoning that primary school children would not be allowed out of school on their own, and so would be unable to buy takeaway food (DCS Number 400-025-467). You might think that perhaps the inspector has a point…until reading a further appeal decision, relating to a takeaway in Gateshead, in which the inspector reasons that where there are overweight children in an area there are probably also overweight adults, and planning policies are aimed at improving the health of the population as a whole (DCS Number 400-025-220).

In the first case the inspector noted that local planning policy advised that permission for a hot food takeaway would only be granted provided it was located beyond a 400m exclusion zone around any primary or secondary school. The reasoned justification advised that takeaways within walking distance of schools were a contributing factor to the rising levels of obesity in the borough. The inspector acknowledged that, in terms of walking distance, the boundary of the nearest of the schools was approximately 255m from the site. He observed, however, that it could not be viewed from any of the schools or from areas where parents would pick up and drop off their children, and it seemed unlikely that primary age pupils would be allowed to travel off the school premises to the site during school hours in order to purchase food. He noted, in addition, that there was no evidence to suggest that the current A3 use permission restricted takeaway sales ancillary to the main use, and furthermore, there were many existing takeaways located between the nearest schools and the site. He was not persuaded that healthy eating by school pupils, or indeed anyone resident in the locality, was likely to be affected to such a degree that the appeal should fail.

In the second case, involving the removal of a planning condition limiting the amount of hot food that could be sold for consumption off the premises to no more than 20 per cent of turnover, the inspector noted that the Year 6 obesity levels in the area were well above target level. He accepted that the site was considerably further than 400 metres from the nearest school and there was therefore a limited likelihood that it would be a destination for school pupils. He pointed out, however, that the aim of local planning policy was to improve the health of the entire population of the district, not just school pupils. He considered that the use of data for Year 6 school pupils was therefore a proxy for the health of the overall population for the ward rather than being simply a target for just one cohort. He recognised that there might not be an exact correspondence between childhood and adulthood, but data provided by the council indicated that overweight or obese pupils were likely to become overweight or obese adults.

The inspector made reference to a review of the literature which considered the link between decisions made through the land use planning system and human health (Land Use Planning and Health and Well-being, Hugh Barton, 2009), which concluded that the relationship is multifaceted and that any link between the two, especially in urban areas, is highly complex. Obesity is a ‘wicked’ problem, he noted, where one policy intervention is likely to have positive and negative consequences. He agreed with Barton’s analysis that the relationship between the health of citizens and the urban environment is one fraught with complexity and difficulty. Nevertheless, he considered it undisputable that there was an obesity problem amongst children in the area, and that in too many cases this would continue into adulthood. He also found it undisputable that food from hot food takeaways is generally very high in salt and fat, and that such establishments were found in high numbers in the area and were used frequently.

The inspector concluded that whilst the proposal would deliver some benefits the harm that would be caused to the health of the local community would be significant and was a matter of overriding concern.

Further information on health considerations in relation to takeaways can be found at section 16.2321 of DCP Online.