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Council’s innovative takeaway policy yields another victory

It seems that every week someone in the media is talking about either the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ or the so-called ‘death of the High Street’. Both terms may be somewhat sensationalised, but it is fair to say that the underlying issues are real and local Councils have a part to play in addressing them.

In 2009 Waltham Forest Council introduced a ground breaking Hot Food Takeaway (HFT) Planning Policy that has been so successful other authorities around the country have adopted the approach.

The policy provides guidance to their Planning Committee to resist applications for new takeaway outlets where the proposal would see them open closer than 400 metres from the boundary of an existing school or youth centred facility (e.g. YMCA, after school clubs) or park, or 10 minutes walking distance if outside designated centres and retail parades.

“What we wanted to do was to stop takeaways targeting our young people,” said Councillor Clare Coghill, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and High Streets. “The health benefits from diverting children away from a regular lunchtime diet of chicken and chips are obvious, but there were other considerations too.

“In addition to helping combat childhood obesity, we also know that kids who enjoy a decent nutritious meal at lunchtime, rather than a whole load of fatty carbs, have better levels of concentration, energy and attention.

“It’s not just our children’s waistlines that a diet of junk food impacts on, it also plays a part in holding back their learning and attainment. Plus of course the policy also stops too many shops ruining the high street, and cuts down on elements such as noise, smell, litter and anti-social behaviour.”

Last year the Council invested £9 million in nine key high streets areas in the borough, improving shopfronts and public realm facilities as part of its commitment to keeping the borough’s high streets vital and vibrant.

Since the introduction of the HFT policy 45 of the 54 planning applications for new fast food outlets in the borough have been refused – that’s 83 per cent. Additionally over that time the overall number of outlets in the borough has dropped by 60.

The most recent example concerned a change of use application made for a retail unit at 272 Church Road, Leyton that saw the applicant appeal the national Planning Inspectorate.

However they upheld the Council’s decision to refuse on 17 September, agreeing that ‘the proposal would have a materially harmful effect on the Council's strategy of promoting healthy lifestyles’ and ‘would have an unacceptable harmful effect on the vitality and viability of the Markhouse Neighbourhood Centre’.

Of course there is also a need to provide a viable alternative and the Council’s School Meals Service does just that, with school meal take-up rising by eight per cent since the Council’s School Meals Strategy was introduced three years ago.

Over the summer the Council made improvements to kitchen and dining facilities at 19 schools across the borough, making a significant investment in improving facilities at the same time as receiving a grant of £620,765 from the government’s Education Funding Agency to provide free school meals under the Universal Infant Free Schools Meals scheme.

It means that Waltham Forest Catering can provide 14,000 freshly cooked meals for our children prepared every day in the borough’s schools. By giving children a healthy option in school the Council can persuade more from the temptation of the local fast food joint.

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