Waltham Forest – banning hot food takeaways to reduce health inequalities


Summary

Planners at the London Borough of Waltham Forest have written a supplementary planning document (SPD). It says the council will not give planning permission to new hot food takeaways if they are 400 metres or less from a school, youth facility or park. The policy aims to limit the opportunities that young people have to eat ‘fast food', thus reducing childhood obesity.

Key learnings for other councils

Provided existing spatial planning policy has the right ‘hook', all councils should in theory be able to replicate what Waltham Forest has done.

While planning will lead on developing an SPD, this needs to be seen as a corporate priority. Preventing new hot food takeaways from opening can only be a small part of an overall approach to reducing unhealthy eating.

Successful planners need to work closely with other departments, such as environmental health, and other organisations and programmes. These include the local primary care trust (PCT) and Food in Schools.

Both the council and the PCT have a number of other initiatives to reinforce this policy objective, including raising people's awareness of what they are eating. In addition, it helps to work with businesses to change the ingredients they are using in fast food.

To be sound, planning policy has to be robust legally. Planners had to work hard to convince the council's legal team that the policy was worth pursuing. Ideally a council needs to have a health inequalities policy in its core strategy or local development plan that the SPD can sit beneath.

Consultation with residents on the issues that are important to them should mean that health is high on the agenda of any spatial planning team. Having such a clear mandate from the community consultation helped to drive the new policy through.

Background

Waltham Forest worked closely with Professor Jack Winkler, Director of the Nutrition Policy Unit (closed spring 2010) at London Metropolitan University. Professor Winkler's research on what he calls the ‘school fringe' - including food shops located close to secondary schools - found that:

  • these shops are popular with students
  • the nutritional quality of the food available is generally poor
  • a significant proportion of students' fat, salt and sugar intake comes from the food they buy there
  • some shops use ‘student offers' specifically to target schoolchildren.

Waltham Forest planners used this research, as well as existing policy guidance, to include a "proximity to schools, youth facilities and parks" test in its SPD. This states that hot food takeaway shops will be "resisted" where the proposal falls within 400 metres of any of these facilities.

Planners devised this distance as being about a 10-minute walk and a suitably long deterrent. They justified this as being part of "an effort to provide a holistic approach to tackling concerns over community health and childhood obesity".

Consultation on Waltham Forest's Sustainable Community strategy (SCS) - published in 2008 - revealed widespread concerns about the rise in fast food outlets in the borough. These are publicly perceived as increasing litter, bad smells, noise, short-term parking and other unwelcome behaviour.

According to the consultation, residents were concerned that the increasing number of these shops was "spoiling the look and feel of the borough". Residents were clear that they "wanted the council to tackle these problems".

Another theme to come out of the consultation was the wish to improve the health of residents. The strategy therefore states that the council "will focus on prevention, targeting specific issues such as childhood obesity, and reducing smoking and alcohol consumption."

The problems and how they were tackled

To tackle these public concerns, council planners drafted a supplementary planning document (SPD) to curb the proliferation of ‘hot food takeaways'. This is the planning term for ‘fast food' outlets. SPDs can be used to add detail about a specific policy that planners want to use to decide what development should be promoted.

The 2008 cross-Government strategy to tackle obesity encouraged planners to use the regulations available to "manage the proliferation of fast food outlets in particular areas, for example, near parks or schools".

However, so far Waltham Forest is one of only two councils in England to have done this through a dedicated SPD. The other is Barking and Dagenham - a nearby London borough.

Ian Butcher, Local Development Framework (LDF) Project Manager at Waltham Forest, says:

"The draft SPD received overwhelming support from consultees, which was something that we were pleased about… local people really got behind it."

One potential concerns was whether the proposed restriction would have an adverse impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME). Anecdotal evidence suggested that the majority of fast food outlets are owned by or employ people from these groups. Restricting the number of premises thus might constrict a potential source of employment.

The council undertook an equalities impact assessment (EqIA) of the policy - see the adopted SPD in ‘Contacts and links'. It determined that, while there might be some impact, the potential benefits of the policy would outweigh this.

Outcomes and impact

Since the SPD was adopted in March 2009 no new planning applications for hot food takeaways have been permitted by Waltham Forest. As at March 2010, the council had refused five new applications, including one that went to a planning appeal and was upheld. This meant that the original decision to refuse planning permission was maintained.

The council has also increased enforcement of environmental health and waste regulations relating to hot food takeaways. During 2009 the council closed down 12 outlets because of breaches.

To help introduce a strategic approach planners have led on setting up a hot food takeaway corporate steering group. This includes representatives from:

  • spatial planning (chairing the group)
  • development management and planning enforcement
  • food standards
  • the Food in Schools programme
  • NHS Waltham Forest, the local PCT.

Waltham Forest is developing an overarching health inequalities strategy which it will finalise at the end of 2010. Public health practitioners are also working with planners to embed health as a consideration in the core strategy.

The question that everyone wants the answer to is, of course, will the SPD reduce levels of unhealthy eating in the borough? London's ‘Evening Standard' seems to think so. In March 2010 it published an article on Waltham Forest under the headline ‘Child obesity cut by block on fast food shops'.

Although the borough has recorded a very small fall in levels of childhood obesity, Dr Kay Eilbert, Acting Joint Director of Public Health at Waltham Forest, believes the causal link is "very difficult" to make.

Butcher is equally cautious:

"It's early days - we can't prove or disprove any link between reduction in obesity levels and planning policy. However, the publicity this issue generated locally has maybe made people think more about what they eat. The council is keen to combat health inequalities and there are a number of initiatives and proposals coming forward, including this SPD."

Eilbert reinforces the importance of reducing health inequalities in many different ways, and sees the SPD as a:

"…very effective approach to changing the environment in which people make food choices - it's a very important intervention and the PCT supports it."

Eilbert also points out:

"Public health needs a regulatory framework as part of the overall approach, and planning can have a critical role to play with this, especially as public health is moving to local authorities [a reference to the health white paper]."

Planners are also happy that the SPD demonstrates spatial planning's capability to be innovative when faced with multi-factorial problems such as the rise in obesity.

Costs and resources

Preparing the ‘hot food takeaway SPD' has not cost any more than other SPDs.

Contacts and links

Ian Butcher
LDF Project Manager
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Telephone: 020 8496 4678
Email: ian.butcher@walthamforest.gov.uk

Dr Kay Eilbert
Acting Joint Director of Public Health
NHS Waltham Forest
Telephone: 020 8 4307379
Email: kay.eilbert@wf-pct.nhs.uk

Summary

Planners at the London Borough of Waltham Forest have written a supplementary planning document (SPD). It says the council will not give planning permission to new hot food takeaways if they are 400 metres or less from a school, youth facility or park. The policy aims to limit the opportunities that young people have to eat ‘fast food', thus reducing childhood obesity.

Key learnings for other councils

Provided existing spatial planning policy has the right ‘hook', all councils should in theory be able to replicate what Waltham Forest has done.

While planning will lead on developing an SPD, this needs to be seen as a corporate priority. Preventing new hot food takeaways from opening can only be a small part of an overall approach to reducing unhealthy eating.

Successful planners need to work closely with other departments, such as environmental health, and other organisations and programmes. These include the local primary care trust (PCT) and Food in Schools.

Both the council and the PCT have a number of other initiatives to reinforce this policy objective, including raising people's awareness of what they are eating. In addition, it helps to work with businesses to change the ingredients they are using in fast food.

To be sound, planning policy has to be robust legally. Planners had to work hard to convince the council's legal team that the policy was worth pursuing. Ideally a council needs to have a health inequalities policy in its core strategy or local development plan that the SPD can sit beneath.

Consultation with residents on the issues that are important to them should mean that health is high on the agenda of any spatial planning team. Having such a clear mandate from the community consultation helped to drive the new policy through.

Background

Waltham Forest worked closely with Professor Jack Winkler, Director of the Nutrition Policy Unit (closed spring 2010) at London Metropolitan University. Professor Winkler's research on what he calls the ‘school fringe' - including food shops located close to secondary schools - found that:

  • these shops are popular with students
  • the nutritional quality of the food available is generally poor
  • a significant proportion of students' fat, salt and sugar intake comes from the food they buy there
  • some shops use ‘student offers' specifically to target schoolchildren.

Waltham Forest planners used this research, as well as existing policy guidance, to include a "proximity to schools, youth facilities and parks" test in its SPD. This states that hot food takeaway shops will be "resisted" where the proposal falls within 400 metres of any of these facilities.

Planners devised this distance as being about a 10-minute walk and a suitably long deterrent. They justified this as being part of "an effort to provide a holistic approach to tackling concerns over community health and childhood obesity".

Consultation on Waltham Forest's Sustainable Community strategy (SCS) - published in 2008 - revealed widespread concerns about the rise in fast food outlets in the borough. These are publicly perceived as increasing litter, bad smells, noise, short-term parking and other unwelcome behaviour.

According to the consultation, residents were concerned that the increasing number of these shops was "spoiling the look and feel of the borough". Residents were clear that they "wanted the council to tackle these problems".

Another theme to come out of the consultation was the wish to improve the health of residents. The strategy therefore states that the council "will focus on prevention, targeting specific issues such as childhood obesity, and reducing smoking and alcohol consumption."

The problems and how they were tackled

To tackle these public concerns, council planners drafted a supplementary planning document (SPD) to curb the proliferation of ‘hot food takeaways'. This is the planning term for ‘fast food' outlets. SPDs can be used to add detail about a specific policy that planners want to use to decide what development should be promoted.

The 2008 cross-Government strategy to tackle obesity encouraged planners to use the regulations available to "manage the proliferation of fast food outlets in particular areas, for example, near parks or schools".

However, so far Waltham Forest is one of only two councils in England to have done this through a dedicated SPD. The other is Barking and Dagenham - a nearby London borough.

Ian Butcher, Local Development Framework (LDF) Project Manager at Waltham Forest, says:

"The draft SPD received overwhelming support from consultees, which was something that we were pleased about… local people really got behind it."

One potential concerns was whether the proposed restriction would have an adverse impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME). Anecdotal evidence suggested that the majority of fast food outlets are owned by or employ people from these groups. Restricting the number of premises thus might constrict a potential source of employment.

The council undertook an equalities impact assessment (EqIA) of the policy - see the adopted SPD in ‘Contacts and links'. It determined that, while there might be some impact, the potential benefits of the policy would outweigh this.

Outcomes and impact

Since the SPD was adopted in March 2009 no new planning applications for hot food takeaways have been permitted by Waltham Forest. As at March 2010, the council had refused five new applications, including one that went to a planning appeal and was upheld. This meant that the original decision to refuse planning permission was maintained.

The council has also increased enforcement of environmental health and waste regulations relating to hot food takeaways. During 2009 the council closed down 12 outlets because of breaches.

To help introduce a strategic approach planners have led on setting up a hot food takeaway corporate steering group. This includes representatives from:

  • spatial planning (chairing the group)
  • development management and planning enforcement
  • food standards
  • the Food in Schools programme
  • NHS Waltham Forest, the local PCT.

Waltham Forest is developing an overarching health inequalities strategy which it will finalise at the end of 2010. Public health practitioners are also working with planners to embed health as a consideration in the core strategy.

The question that everyone wants the answer to is, of course, will the SPD reduce levels of unhealthy eating in the borough? London's ‘Evening Standard' seems to think so. In March 2010 it published an article on Waltham Forest under the headline ‘Child obesity cut by block on fast food shops'.

Although the borough has recorded a very small fall in levels of childhood obesity, Dr Kay Eilbert, Acting Joint Director of Public Health at Waltham Forest, believes the causal link is "very difficult" to make.

Butcher is equally cautious:

"It's early days - we can't prove or disprove any link between reduction in obesity levels and planning policy. However, the publicity this issue generated locally has maybe made people think more about what they eat. The council is keen to combat health inequalities and there are a number of initiatives and proposals coming forward, including this SPD."

Eilbert reinforces the importance of reducing health inequalities in many different ways, and sees the SPD as a:

"…very effective approach to changing the environment in which people make food choices - it's a very important intervention and the PCT supports it."

Eilbert also points out:

"Public health needs a regulatory framework as part of the overall approach, and planning can have a critical role to play with this, especially as public health is moving to local authorities [a reference to the health white paper]."

Planners are also happy that the SPD demonstrates spatial planning's capability to be innovative when faced with multi-factorial problems such as the rise in obesity.

Costs and resources

Preparing the ‘hot food takeaway SPD' has not cost any more than other SPDs.

Contacts and links

Ian Butcher
LDF Project Manager
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Telephone: 020 8496 4678
Email: ian.butcher@walthamforest.gov.uk

Dr Kay Eilbert
Acting Joint Director of Public Health
NHS Waltham Forest
Telephone: 020 8 4307379
Email: kay.eilbert@wf-pct.nhs.uk

Hot Food Takeaway Shops Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)

Waltham Forest Sustainable Community strategy

Healthy weight, healthy lives: a cross-government strategy for England

Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS (July 2010 NHS White Paper)