Row over Sheffield takeaways ban near schools
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The draft Sheffield local plan, which is the city’s blueprint for what types of development are allowed across the city until 2039, was under discussion at a meeting of the council’s strategy and development committee (August 4).
A policy in the plan states that new hot food takeaways, extensions to, or increases in the opening hours to existing hot food takeaways, will not be permitted where the application is within 800 metres of a secondary school and where it would be open for business any time between 8am and 5pm.
The rule would also apply in a district or local centre where hot food takeaways already make up more than 25% of the units.
The plan says that the council’s Food and Wellbeing Strategy “identifies that poor diet contributes toward increasing chronic ill health conditions, such as diabetes and/or chronic high blood pressure, and this is influenced by the environment in which we live.
“Childhood obesity rates continue to increase, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas, and at a higher rate than the national average.”
It adds: “Higher concentrations of food outlets, including takeaways tend to be found in more disadvantaged areas of Sheffield. They are also often clustered near to schools making them easy to access at lunch breaks and after school, especially for secondary school children. This provides an obstacle to schoolchildren eating healthily.”
LibDem Coun Joe Otten is opposed to the policy and is challenging its legality. He posted a copy of a lengthy briefing note to council officers who have drawn up the local plan on his Twitter and Threads accounts, @JoeOttenX.
In this, he argued: “I am objecting to the idea that restricting access to food from hot food takeaways will lead to improved diets and improved health outcomes. It is not sufficient to presume that if we take away a choice, that people will in response on average make better choices, particularly when there are plenty of equal or worse choices available.
“The burden is on supporters of the policy to show effectiveness of the policy in order for a ban to be a legal planning policy.”
He has also argued that the policy is discriminatory to people from city BAME communities who own takeaways. Council officers responded that it would have an overall positive impace on the wider BAME community.
They replied: “Prevalence of children living with obesity in year 6 in Sheffield is statistically significantly higher than average for children in Asian, Black, Mixed and Other upper-level ethnic groups.
“Obesity at year 6 is closely associated with obesity in adulthood and the resulting ill health is unfair, preventable and unevenly distributed across society. Therefore, the policy should have a disproportionately positive impact on these groups.”
At the meeting, Green Party group leader Coun Douglas Johnson dismissed Coun Otten’s objections as “complete nonsense” and said he’d quoted the wrong equalities legislation.
Coun Ben Miskell said: “It’s important to note Coun Otten’s crusade to support fast food takeaways next to our schools, which Coun Johnson has also highlighted.
“Of course I have the fullest respect for Joe but I do think that he’s out of touch with both the views of people in this city and the obesity crisis that we face.
“Fast food takeaways in the vicinity of our schools, and I know this as a teacher, harm the young people that we serve in this this city and disproportionately harm young people from some of the poorest communities in our city.
“Of course, it’s right that the local plan takes pragmatic action to protect young people and is led by public health arguments and not ideological dogma.”
Coun Otten responded: “It is not for us to say which equalities issues we think something is. We have a duty to consider all of the equalities issues under the Equalities Act.
“I have raised the issue of the loss of employment and business opportunities to ethnic minority Sheffielders as a result of the policy on hot food takeaways. Now you can’t say we’re not going to consider that because we think a different equalities issue is the relevant one.
“Our duty under the public sector equalities duty is to consider all the issues and I have asked for that to be considered.”
Council director of public health Greg Fell said that the government clearly recognised the impact of the ‘food environment’ in helping people make healthy food choices. He added: “Our choices are influenced by our environment, very, very heavily conditioned by our environment.
“This isn’t to do with personal choice, personal responsibility, it’s to do with the environment in which we find ourselves.”
Mr Fell said that there was no proven link between hot food takeaway density and obesity but there is a clear correlation and “there’s a wall of evidence that points broadly in the same way”.
He said neither he nor anyone was was claiming the policy is the answer to childhood obesity: “The key question is not does it work but does it help and it certainly will help and I’d encourage everyone to look at the evidence, particularly the Gateshead policy in the North East that has been thoroughly tested by the planning inspectorate on a number of occasions.”
Mr Fell added: The purpose of the policy isn’t a ban on takeaways, it restricts growth on takeaways, and the primary purpose is to reduce exposure and to set a tone on the kind of environment we want to create.”
Head of planning Michael Johnson said that the implications for businesses owners and potential business owners need further consideration, so he would look again at the equality impact assessment.