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Council wants to wrap up takeaways

8 December 08 13:04 GMT

By Jack Izzard
BBC News

The UK is a nation of fast-food lovers.

Earlier this year a survey of people in 13 countries found British people were more attached to junk food than any other nation.

Some 45% of British people polled said they enjoyed fatty food too much to give it up - even more than Americans.

In the Highams Park area of east London, the British love affair with lard is clear to see.

On Winchester Road, there is a kebab shop, a chip shop, and a burger bar within a stone's throw of each other.

The street is part of the London borough of Waltham Forest - which currently boasts 255 fast-food restaurants. That is one for every 350 families.

That is more than enough, says Waltham Forest council. It wants to make it harder for fast-food outlets to open.

The leader of the council, Clyde Loakes, says: "We are proposing a total ban on all new fast food outlets within 400 metres of schools, parks, playgrounds and youth centres."

The idea is to tighten up the rules for restaurants applying for planning permission.

Certain sites - near existing clusters of takeaways, as well as close to schools and other places where young people congregate - would be deemed off limits.

Prospective takeaway owners would also have to show their businesses would not increase the risk of crime or antisocial behaviour, or cause unpleasant smells or waste.

Reduce temptation

Mr Loakes says the idea is hugely popular with people living nearby. During a six-week consultation period, 93% of Waltham Forest residents said they supported the planned rules.

He adds: "If that isn't a message to those who are concerned about what we are doing, I don't know what is."

On Winchester Road there are three schools and a youth centre within a few hundred yards.

The primary goal of the council's plan is to reduce the temptation for schoolchildren and young people to eat fast food.

This echoes a call made earlier this year by the School Food Trust, a government body set up to tackle childhood obesity, for councils to stop takeaways opening up near schools.

It warned that even though many school canteens now offer healthier fare, some pupils will nip out for takeaway chips five days a week if given the choice.

But Waltham Forest council hopes to do more than just encourage children to develop healthy eating habits - it wants to stop its streets being dominated by takeaways.

It is an idea other councils might consider too.

Chris White, the chairman of the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board at the Local Government Association, said Waltham Forest was "using the existing powers in an ingenious way to make sure that the town centre is much more what people want".

Unsurprisingly, the people already running takeaways on Winchester Road quite like the idea of the council making it harder for potential competitors to open.

Hassan Sonzamanci, who owns the Captain Dorego III cafe, says the area is already clogged with fast-food joints.

"A couple of years ago you'd write to the council and say, 'You've got too many, it's too much, they're killing the business', but nobody listened to us.

"Now they say yes they'll stop it, which is good news, but it's too late."

Of course not all councils will suddenly be rushing out to put the squeeze on the fast-food industry.

It provides jobs for the community and business rates for council coffers. There is also the small matter that a lot of people like eating fast food. And what about freedom of choice?

Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses, says any council that tries to restrict what people eat is overstepping the mark.

"What people decide to eat and in what place should be entirely up to them. One takeaway a month shouldn't hurt anyone.

"These are very popular meals and it's not for local authorities to dictate how people go about their healthy eating."

Councillors in Waltham Forest must now decide whether to formally include the restrictions in their planning rules. Their decision is not due until early 2009.

Depending on your point of view, it is either a bold attempt to stop the spread of more junk-food outlets and help young people eat better, or a meddling council trying to stop people enjoying a cheap treat.

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