Planning & Environment

How can the planning system address obesity concerns? The Scottish Government has published a research report on the relationship between the food environment and the planning system.

‘A Healthier Future’

In Scotland, the rates of overweight and obesity for both children and adults are among the highest in the developed world.

The Scottish Government has committed to:

Action 2.12 As part of its forthcoming review of Scottish Planning Policy, the Scottish Government will take into account its commissioned research, to be published this summer, on the relationship between the food environment and the planning system, including how food outlets near schools can be better controlled. The next version of Scottish Planning Policy is expected to be published in 2020.

Food Environment

The research report discusses the wide-ranging concept of “the food environment”, which includes:

“the everyday prompts which nudge consumers’ food choices in particular directions, and which contribute to dietary habits and preferences that can have long-term impacts, especially in children”

Bad or unhealthy food environments, sometimes referred to as ‘food deserts’ or ‘obesogenic environments’, are noted as a consequence of poor access to fresh food and increased exposure to readily available energy dense food.

Specific issues include:

  • density and clustering of hot food takeaway outlets
  • the food environment around schools

Planning System

The research report examines experience in England. It concludes that policy and guidance, supported by an evidence base, have led to robust planning permission decisions.

Measures have included:

  • An exclusion zone of 400m (or in some cases 800m) or 5-minute walking distance around sensitive youth facilities such as secondary and primary schools, parks, playing fields etc.;
  • Control of the hours of opening of a facility to prevent opening during school hours;
  • Prevent takeaways where the number within the area already exceeds the identified national average; and
  • Where a certain percentage of children of a certain age within a ward are obese based on statistics available from the National Child Measurement Programme.

The Future

So, “food, glorious food”, provided it’s healthy food…

Taking account of Action 2.12 and the research project, it seems likely that the draft National Planning Framework, expected to be published by the Scottish Government in 2019, will contain policies encouraging local authorities to control hot food takeaways and the food environment around schools, where there is evidence to justify controls in local areas.

There will no doubt be interesting debates to come:

  • The planning system tends to classify uses in groups – but is every hot food takeaway unhealthy?
  • Are sandwich shops an acceptable “food environment”?
  • What about coffee shops selling high calorie lattes?
  • Shops selling fizzy drinks to children?
  • Will a healthiness index be needed to assess specific uses? (presumably a taste test is ruled out on health grounds!).
  • Could this change the approach to ancillary uses, with a minor unhealthy food use becoming more significant in the eyes of the planners?

It is new planning applications that will feel the full force of any new restrictive policies. Existing premises are unlikely to be affected, as local authorities are generally unwilling to revoke existing consents, because compensation would be payable.

As this is another item is added to the long list of objectives for the planning system to deal with, it’s a reminder of the crucial importance for planning authorities to be properly, and fully, resourced.

Neil Collar

Partner at Brodies LLP
Neil is a partner at Brodies LLP and consistently rated as one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers. He is well known for both his planning inquiry advocacy and his advisory work. Neil has a particular interest in renewable energy developments.
Neil Collar

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